Modern Fairy Tales Ch. 02byslyc_willie©
Ch. 02: Hansel & Gretel
(Author's note: The tale of Hansel and Gretel is a strangely simple one. The mother, for reasons of poverty, decides to abandon her children. She tries, they come back, she tries again, and the children get captured by a witch whom they then have to kill to be free. But I've always thought that there was a little more to it than that. And thus, the following story.
My thanks to Selena_Kitt for the idea and my inclusion into this effort. We have a lot of talent on board, and I hope that you will read all the stories in the chain. And so, with no more further ado . . . .)
Once upon a time . . . .
Their mother occupied the doorway as Hansel and Gretel lay sleeping. Throughout all their eighteen years, the children had never called their matriarch anything other than 'Mother.' Not 'Mom' or 'Mommy,' always 'Mother.' Even their father referred to his wife by the matronly title. Any deviation resulted in a stern look. And for Hansel and Gretel, a stern look meant discipline. Discipline . . . which was conducted in the basement, with switches and paddles and padded cuffs.
So the children were always well behaved, at least around Mother. Around town, however, they were the usual rambunctious, mischievous teenagers, yet their fear of discipline from their mother meant they were inordinately crafty; never had anyone guessed that the delinquents who periodically stole from Abel Mencke's orchard, who had defaced the statue of Revolutionary War hero and first mayor Earl Kelly Stipes, who had once broken into Mrs. Heath's candy store in the middle of the night, were the twins Hansel & Gretel, widely viewed as 'angelic' by the townsfolk of Brimstone.
It's time t' let 'em go, Mother thought crossly as she watched her children in their beds. Eighteen years is a long enough time t' wait for freedom. Once I'm rid o' them, Lewis'll be even more docile. And without the children to pay for, that's money I can finally spend t' replace that ridiculous jalopy I drive and get a real car . . . like a Cadillac.
But, how t' do it? None too likely they'd leave on their own. I know them. No, I'd have t' take 'em someways far away . . . far, far away . . . .
Hansel murmured in his bed, frowning at the sound of his twin's voice. He buried his face in the pillow -- Christ, when was the last time it was washed? -- and pretended to still be asleep. But his sister knew him too well, and he, she. As with many twins, they enjoyed (and sometimes reviled) a nearly psychic link between them.
"Damn it, Han!" she hissed, keeping her voice low. She pinched her brother's ear roughly, eliciting the desired effect. But just as his eyes flashed open and he began to cry out in pain, Gretel slapped her hand over his mouth, so all that escaped was a muffled sound of irritation.
Gretel pressed a single finger to her lips. "Shh!"
Hansel frowned, staring at his twin. Aside from the fact that they were of different sexes, Hansel and Gretel were truly identical. Their faces almost perfectly mirrored one another, save that Hansel's was a bit broader, and Gretel's brow was thinner. But both had the same sharp, narrow nose, short black hair, and catlike violet-hued eyes. Even their builds were similar, being athletic and lean, although Hansel stood a couple of inches taller than his slightly-older sister, and possessed broader shoulders.
"What th' devil's gotten in ya?" Hansel whispered after his sister took her hand away.
Still with a finger to her lips, Gretel beckoned with her hand and rose from the floor, where she had been kneeling beside her brother's bed. She stepped to the door of the room they shared -- and had always shared since the first day they drew breath -- and peered out.
Hansel flipped back the old worn blanket and stained, threadbare sheets, letting his feet rest quietly on the floor. Silently, following his sister's lead, he approached behind her. "Greta?" he asked, his voice so soft, audible only to her ear.
She looked at him over her shoulder, needing not to say a word to indicate that he should follow. The short tee covering her torso offered no modesty to her lower body. The worn and stretched panties that hugged her slender hips tightly (there was a hole in the right cheek that revealed much too much bare flesh) might as well have been airbrushed paint. Similarly, the simple briefs Hansel wore looked almost like a man's bikini upon him.
Gretel lead the way along the hall to the top of the stairs, where she crouched behind the railing. Wordlessly, Hansel followed suit, almost intimately framing his sister's body with his own. But such closeness was nothing new to the siblings; even as legal adults, they still slept in the same bed at times.
Two pairs of unnaturally violet eyes watched through the scratched and scuffed wooden posts of the stair rail as Mother spoke with their father in the living room below. Their words were just barely discernible to the twins' ears.
". . . Y'know I'm right," Mother was saying, facing her husband upon the moth-eaten couch. "They's of age, now. And they need a taste o' th' world outside this little town. It'll be good for 'em."
Reluctantly, the twins' father, Lewis, nodded. "I . . . s'pose so," he said cagily. "I'm just not sure I like th' idea of drivin' 'em away from town, and just . . . leavin' 'em there—"
"Lewis!" Mother snapped. "As always, it ain't for you t' like. This'll be good for them. I know it. I am their mother, after all."
Timidly, Lewis nodded, casting his eyes down.
Mother straightened, taking on her usual air of authority and arrogance. "It's settled, then," she said with a smug smile. "Tomorrow, I'll take 'em out for a drive. And when I return -- alone -- p'haps I'd be in the mood t' let ya have me for a spell."
Lewis's head sprang up, wearing a hopeful expression. "Really?"
Patronizingly, Mother patted her husband's head as she stood. "Maybe," she said, then walked away, into the kitchen.
The eyes of the siblings watched their mother as she disappeared, then focused on one another's. Nervousness swept like a current between them, coupled with fear. Without a word, they crept back to their little room.
Minutes later, the twins sat upon Hansel's bed, legs folded beneath their bodies as they faced one another. Their hands were intertwined, seeking strength and comfort that seemed now to be sorely lacking.
"What're we gonna do?" Gretel asked, her eyes watery as she tried to hold back tears.
Hansel had always been the more level-headed one. "She'd have t' take us far enough aways, t' some place we don't recognize," he said. "We gonna need t' leave a trail someways."
Gretel frowned with a feeling of hopelessness. "How's we gonna do that? Oh, God, Han, she's gonna take us somewhere and leave us—"
Hansel reached out and touched his sister's face, trying to hold back his own strong anxiety. "We'll find our way home, Greta," he said with as much certainty as he could muster.
A line of tears spilled from Gretel's eyes, dripping down her cheek. "How?" she asked. "And even if we make it back, what then?"
Hansel shrugged. "I don't know," he admitted. "Least ways, we'd be home. But first, we gotta figure out the 'how.'"
The following morning, before Mother awoke, Hansel crept outside to the family car with a pail of paint taken from the garage. The paint was of a bright green color, used years before in the construction of a go-kart that had since been demolished. Hansel was glad to have kept it around; it now finally had a use.
The family car was a behemoth of a station wagon that was nearly twice Hansel's age. Colored a motley brown with wooden side paneling, the automotive monstrosity had as many dents and scratches as a smash-up derby car, yet still it remained faithful. Even though the engine had been overhauled numerous times, rims and brakes and axles had been routinely replaced, every turn of the key was rewarded with the throaty rumble of its venerable eight-cylinder engine.
Before getting to his task, however, Hansel stopped a moment, looking around at the small town which constituted the entirety of his known world. There were perhaps eight or nine dozen families in Brimstone, which had once been a prosperous town. But the mines had dried up decades before, shortly after the Great Depression, and the town had suffered since. Many buildings stood dilapidated and desolate, and the streets were in sorry states of disrepair.
Like nearly every house in Brimstone, the one which Hansel and Gretel called home was a piecemeal construction of simple materials that needed constant repair. The grass was brown -- where it existed -- and the trees were skeletal and dying. It was the same all throughout town.
Would it really be that bad t' leave here? Hansel thought. He had heard tales of the Big City, with its clean streets and modern homes. Of men and women who could afford to shower every day and wore clean clothes that had not been handed down. Of wonders like computers, and cellular phones. The world outside Brimstone, the world that began beyond the foothills, was a very different one, Hansel knew. A better one.
Maybe Mother really is doing us a favor, he thought. Just 'cause Brimstone's the only home we ever known don't mean it's the only home we'd ever have. Maybe it's fate. Maybe it's how it's s'posed t' be.
Hansel's brow furrowed in thought. But what about father? He'd be left t' damnation with Mother. Maybe he's a spineless simp, but he's still father.
With a resigned sigh, Hansel returned to his task, crawling beneath the station wagon. The wire he had brought along served to secure the paint canister to the underside of the station wagon, just a few inches in from the twisted rear bumper. Once it was secure, Hansel stabbed the can once with a screwdriver, resulting in a small hole from which slowly leaked the viscous, brightly-colored mixture. It was thick enough that it would take hours to drain away, Hansel knew.
He hoped those hours were enough.
Mother's shrill voice served to summon her son and daughter to the kitchen where she stood. She was clad in her best Sunday dress, fresh off the line. A rickety old picnic basket sat upon the table. The teens' father was nowhere around. Dutifully, apparently clueless to their mother's plan, Hansel and Gretel stopped fast and stood straight, as they always had after being called.
Mother effected a plastic smile upon her aging features. "We're goin' for a drive, little ones," she said in her best motherly voice. "I figure it was time we all got t' treatin' each other as adults."
Together, the twins nodded in agreement. "Of course, Mother," Gretel said. She and her brother knew that the only way their plan could succeed was if they allowed Mother's to.
Mother beamed. "Hansel, take the basket," she said, then winked. "This'll be such a wonderful day, one none of us'll ever forget."
Miles later, once Brimstone was left behind and the dirty roads became less and less recognizable to the twins, Hansel leaned forward from the back seat and addressed his mother. "We goin' someplace new, Mother?" he asked.
Her eyes flashed to the cracked rearview mirror as the car rambled along a lonely country road. "I reckon it's 'bout time you two got to see a little of th' world outside Brimstone," she said.
"Oh, okay," Hansel said, feigning innocence. He sat back, glancing briefly to his sister. They did not have to speak to share their thoughts. The reality of their impending abandonment weighed heavily enough upon them, without having to compromise it with useless anger toward their mother.
Still, while Hansel appeared unperturbed, Gretel shivered involuntarily, rubbing her bare arms as if she was cold. She stared out the window at the twisted, gnarled old trees that framed either side of the dirt road, hoping that Hansel's plan would work.
As mountains gave way to foothills, and foothills to endless plain, Hansel's heart began to sink. He did not know how long the dripping paint can would leave a trail to follow back, and the further Mother drove, the more and more anxious he became. He tried not to allow it to show, but his tensing shoulders and darting, furtive looks could not be helped.
Watching her children in the mirror, Mother suppressed a wicked smile. Don't fret, little ones. At the least, ya'll have some food t' keep ya goin' for a while.
Finally, the station wagon approached a small collection of buildings. The most obvious of them was a small general store, with simple signs advertising everything from bags of ice to cold beer, tools to tire change services. There was a garage attached, as well as a pair of aging fuel pumps.
Mother pulled the station wagon up before one of the pumps and ordered her children out of the car. "It's been a long ride," she said snappishly. "Best get yourselves cleaned up a bit."
Hansel and Gretel agreed wordlessly, stepping onto firm ground for the first time in hours. They had never spent so much time in a car before; they were both surprised by how stiff and uncomfortable they felt after having done nothing but sit. They twisted, turned, eliciting audible snaps and cracks from their backs and necks.
"Is there a bathroom, Mother?" Hansel asked.
She answered without looking up from the gas pump nozzle she was inserting into the car. "Inside. Ask th' man behind th' counter for th' key."
Hansel gave his twin a knowing look. Mother's been here before, he thought. Gretel nodded in silent assent, her nervousness even more telling now. It was heightened as she noticed two middle-aged men sitting upon a long bench beside the front door of "Avery's Market." They wore greasy, dirty old caps upon their heads bearing faded farming machine legends, and clothing that, like those of the twins, were well-worn and faded.
Reflexively, she gripped her brother's hand in a fierce grip. "Don't let go, Han," she pleaded under her breath. She felt the eyes of the two men upon her, and was suddenly self-conscious in her tight-fitting old shorts and equally snug tee. Though her breasts were rather small, her top had long since molded itself around their shape through years of wear. Even the details of her nipples were clDaley revealed.
"C'mon," urged Hansel, pulling his sister to the door. She walked beside him, mustering her confidence as they passed the two men.
"Afternoon, young lady," the closest of the two men sneered, revealing stained and crooked teeth. "Sure is turnin' out t' be a lovely day."
"Ain't it," drawled the other man, openly ogling Gretel's long, tanned legs.
"Afternoon, sirs," Hansel spoke as Gretel remained silent, warily regarding the two men. That simple salutation was all Hansel said before opening the door and bringing his sister inside with him. The two men craned their necks with leering smiles, watching after Gretel's derriere.
The store was fairly small, and just about every inch of space, it seemed, had been put to use. There was scarcely enough room between aisles packed with various foodstuffs and merchandise to navigate. Neither of the twins had ever seen such a variety in their lives, nor so much.
"This place's got everything!" exclaimed Gretel, eyes wide with amazement. She approached a nearby rack stocked almost to overflowing with brightly-colored packages. "What's a . . . 'Free-toe?'"
"Like potato chips, girlie," came an aged voice from the short counter to their left. "'Cept they're made from corn. Buy two, get one free." The old man winked, and even his eyes displayed a lecherous glow as he beheld the girl in his store.
Gretel frowned. "Bizarre," she commented.
Hansel shook his head in bewilderment. "Ain't never heard o' such a thing," he remarked, then remembered why they had come into the store. He addressed the old man behind the counter. "Sir, have you got th' key t' th' restroom?"
The old man pursed his lips, then reached under the counter and retrieved a cracked and battered wooden rod, about a foot long, with a key hanging off a loop at one end. "It's in th' back," he said, hooking his thumb toward the rear of the store. "And only one at a time."
Wordlessly, Hansel took the key and dragged Gretel toward the back, seeing a short hallway framed by various car care products on a rack and a cooler filled with different types of beer. There was a simple white door, with a sign showing the universal male/female characters. "I'll be right back," Hansel said, then unlocked the door and left his sister in the hallway.
The restroom was small and dingy, but relatively clean. He had no need to use the toilet, so Hansel simply washed his hands and face, pulled off his shirt to dab away the sweat from his forearms. He was finished within a minute, and hurriedly stepped out to let Gretel in.
She was occupied for several minutes, and Hansel could tell she was relieving herself before cleaning off the unanticipated grime of a three-hour drive. A sheepish look adorned her face as she emerged. "Sorry. I hadda pee."
Hansel could not help but chuckle. "Come on," he said, directing his sister back through the store. A sense of dread rose quickly in his mind as his eyes darted through the windows, spying empty gas pumps outside. No behemoth station wagon in sight.
"Oh, no," he muttered, then slapped the bathroom key on the counter before running out, hurling open the door. "No! No! NO!"
Gretel followed, already feeling the tight lump in her chest, like a wrench twisting her heart. Her brother was jumping up and down, looking in all directions for their mother, his face furtive and desperate. Even though he had known that abandonment was coming, the reality was abruptly depressing.
"She left us!" he cried, staring fearfully at Gretel, an expression of hopelessness worn upon his face. "She really left us!"
Gretel tried valiantly to suppress her own fear. "W-we knew she was gonna . . . ." Please, Han, don't go howlin' at th' moon now.
Hansel stopped his frantic jumping and made the supreme effort to calm himself. "You're right, Greta," he said, and took a deep breath. His arms wrapped around his sister as she came to him, shuddering with her own release of emotion. Comforting her gave him strength, and strength gave him clarity.
I can't go fallin' apart, he thought. Like Greta said, we knew this was gonna happen. So now it's happened, and now we gotta figure out how t' get back home. I sure hope that paint trail is there . . . .
His eyes fell upon the picnic basket that sat upon the bench, in between the two men. They smiled lecherously upon the twins, moreso upon Gretel. Their body language and looks told Hansel they understood that they held sway over something the twins needed.
"That's ours," he said once Gretel had regained her composure. Gripping hands once again, they faced the two men.
The two men exchanged a sneering look before the one who spoke previously turned back. "What, this thing?" he asked, patting the basket. "I don't see no one's name on it. That lady you rode in with just set it down here and took off. I reckon it was a gift for a couple'a lonely old men."
The other man nodded. "Mighty nice of her," he muttered.
"That was our mother!" screeched Gretel impulsively. "And that basket's for us!"
Hansel squeezed his sister's hand, silently urging caution.
The crooked-toothed man chuckled. "If she was y'all's momma, why'd she just take off like that?"
Hansel ground his teeth. "'Cause we're poor," he said. "And she don't want us 'round no more."
The man laughed loudly. "Now, see, Dale, that's th' way t' do it. Kids get old 'nuff, you just take them out somewheres n' drop 'em off. Yep, that's th' way."