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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2121784
Promptly Potter. Day Thirteen.
The bushy branches of the towering pine trees creaked with every gust of wind in time with Elena's brisk shivers. She zipped her coat the rest of the way too her throat, and adjusted her grip on her flashlight. The undergrowth was thick, and she was glad she had worn her tall, thick boots to protect her legs. No one was ever supposed to enter this forest, so no paths had been tread. Yet here she was, searching the woods alone.

Elena called out to her son again, trying to keep trembles of cold and fear out of her voice. "Eddie? Eddie, are you out here?"

Eddie was only seven years old, so he was forbidden from entering the woods. Elena couldn't imagine why he had decided to cease listening to her insistence that he never play in there for any reason.

The path to follow when she had realised Eddie was missing had been clear, as the trampled underbrush was clearly visible in the setting sun. Now that the sun had fully set and she was deeper into the forest, the night was black before her, except where her light was pointed. Elena could hear the rustling of branches and the hooting of owls, but she couldn't hear the voice of her small son, and the terror in her stomach bubbled.

"Eddie?" Elena called out again. She tried not to let the terror seep into her voice. "Eddie, can you hear me?"

Suddenly the underbrush was gone, and the flashlight shone onto a cottage before her. She remembered it from her childhood, but she couldn't recall why. It just had a strong sense of familiarity to her. All she knew was that it was the root of why she had never allowed Eddie to play in the woods.

Elena approached the cottage slowly, glancing at the barely lit windows and wondering if anyone was even home. She knew she had to find out if Eddie had gone inside, or if whoever lived there had seen him. Holding her breath, Elena gave a firm knock at the gingerbread door.

A small woman opened the door a crack, and peeked out through it with one eye. Her creaky voice filled Elena with inexplicable dread when she said, "Can I help you?"

Elena took a short steady breath, and replied, "Yes, I'm looking for my son Eddie. He's not supposed to play in the woods, but it seemed he wandered off."

The woman gave a toothy smile. "Of course, dear. He's inside." The door swung open, and the old woman was gone.

Elena ran into the room, trying not to hyperventilate. The woman truly had vanished, but she hadn't lied. Eddie sat in a corner in the small room, a metal shackle securing his ankle to the wall by a chain.

"Mommy!" Eddie cried out, tears streaming down his dirt-streaked face.

"Eddie! Has she hurt you? Are you okay? Do you know where she went? Or where the keys are?" Elena had begun to cry as well, overwhelmed with relief that he hadn't been harmed, and fear that he still could be.

Elena could feel the memories flooding back, memories of being a little girl and finding a gingerbread house with her brother. She remembered the old woman at the door being many years younger then, but it was the same woman. Elena had barely escaped with her life, and her brother Hansel had not made it out at all.

"Hello Aunt Gretel," Elena said to the old woman, who had appeared in the room once again, waiting by the stove with a menacing grin.

Aunt Gretel replied, "Hello, Elena, dear. It's been a long time. You never come visit anymore."

"You tried to eat me!"

"That seems like a fair point, but it doesn't do much to assuage my hurt feelings, I'm afraid."

Elena positioned herself firmly in front of Eddie, trying to keep him out of Aunt Gretel's view, but trying just as hard to keep Aunt Gretel from his view. Elena reached into her pocket, carefully and slowly, so as not to attract Aunt Gretel's attention.

Aunt Gretel smiled her horrible smile once again. "If you think you can push me into the flames the way I pushed the witch into the flames, you're wrong. I learned from her mistakes. I'm fireproof."

"But are you bulletproof?" Elena said, as she pulled the gun from her pocket, and fired at Aunt Gretel.

Elena was afraid for a moment that she had missed. The gunshot still echoed through the room, and Aunt Gretel fell to the ground. Blood pooled across the floor as Elena raced across the room to check her pulse. Aunt Gretel was dead. Elena quickly searched her aunt's pockets for the keys to Eddie's shackle, and when she found it she raced back to him.

"Let's go home, darling."

"I promise I won't play in the forest again, mommy," Eddie sobbed as he flung his arms around her neck.

"I know, darling. I know."
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