The real story behind the legend
|Action/Adventure Editor's Pick 5/15/19, Scary/Horrror Newletter Editors pick 7/11/18. "SCREAMS!!!" entry prompt: a twisted version of one of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s classic fairy tales
“She hates us.” Gretel whimpered. The beating her stepmother gave her was still fresh. Every bone in her body hurt. “The witch said if I told Papa, she’d kill both of us.”
Hansel felt lucky he’d missed the main event. “What was it about this time?”
His sister shivered, rubbing her bruised arms. “I feel like a human pincushion where she jabbed me with those sharp hairpins of hers. Why don’t you do something? It’ll be your turn next.”
They’d both thought about ways to get revenge. The woman their father seemed to love so well had killed the family dog when it tried to protect the pair. “I wish Red Rover was still here. At least he took a bite out of her when she attacked us.”
“And when she showed the bite to dad, he took our pet out to the woods and shot it dead.” Hansel reminded her.
They both froze in silence when the dreaded footsteps of Marie Gelfeen walked across the floor above their heads. “She’s hunting us again.”
Hiding out of sight in the basement sometimes worked. Sometimes she trapped them there in their bedrooms they called their dungeon cells. That’s what it felt like when a rage consumed the woman they’d grown to hate.
“Dad’s home.” Hansel could have wept with relief. Gretel knew better than to creep up the stairs to welcome him. They had to speak only when spoken too, be seen only when called.
Nothing they could do was right. She was a perfectionist only when it came to them. When their father complained about the way their home looked so trashed and broken, Marie Gelfeen lied. “They are impossible. You say it is grief because their mother died. But they are driving us into debt breaking everything in sight on purpose if you ask me.”
Fadder Geleen was too worn out from working two and a half jobs to fight with her will. “I know, sweetheart. You were so good to take care of Elena, your half-sister when I needed your help.” The man’s hands trembled with exhaustion as he held his face in his hands, rocking himself back and forth wrestling with what to do to fix things.
Marie rubbed his shoulders, moved his legs open and knelt, tugging at his pants. “You just need a little loving, darling.” She wet her lips with her tongue, her eyes wicked with fake desire.
“Such a naughty big boy. Show me how bad you can be.” She forced him to thrust himself into her mouth, swallowing him whole, sucking the life out of him. With a groan he exploded, hands clinging to her hair. It took only a minute and he was always so grateful. Whatever she asked for he gave.
“There, there. Rest, sweetie. I’ll take care of everything.” Marie rifled through his pants pockets greedy for the wallet inside. “Sleep.” She kissed his brow. “I have some shopping to do.”
“It’s quiet up there.” Gretel listened as quietly as a church mouse. Neither child had eaten that day. The small store of breadcrumbs she’d stolen from the kitchen larder was almost gone.
The back door squeezed shut with hardly a sound. “I want to see where she goes,” Hansel whispered into Gretel’s ear. “She always goes out at night and comes back looking …”
“I know. You don’t have to tell me. Let’s follow her.” Gretel tucked their meager food in a pocket. She didn’t know how long they’d be gone.
The moon lit the forest path deep into the gloomy woods where Marie went like a wraith in the night without a glance behind.
Hansel and Gretel had a hard time keeping up. Their stepmom was in such a fever of haste she soon left smaller legs behind. “She’s killing papa. We have to know how she’s doing it and warn him before it is too late. I think she did the same thing to sick mama. When she was nursing her.”
The deeper into the woods the more lost they became. A sliver of light winked at Hansel. He stopped his sister with a hand, motioning her to look as a cabin door opened and closed upon the figure of their evil stepmother.
“We found her.” Gretel’s fingers dug hard into Hansel’s wrist making him wince. “Maybe we can lock her inside. Come on.”
“Where did she get all those things?” Hansel’s nose poked and sniffed at the edge of a window.
Gretel gasped at the sight. “ She’s the one who’s been killing those kids. Look. That’s Ralph Kinsel’s body in that cage.”
“It’s his head anyway. I think she eats them.” Hansel wanted to throw up and did. Vomit dribbled out of his mouth as he gulped his stomach back down his throat. “Sorry. I can’t help it.”
“You can’t help it, but I can. I’ll eat you alive.” Marie Geleen lunged at Gretel as she flung open the door. A flood of light revealed stark fear on both children’s faces. “Caught you, you sniveling little monsters.”
In another moment, Marie had kicked the head of their friend rolling out of the cage. Hansel was made to clean up the gruesome remains of the body while Gretel brought in wood for an old iron stove fire.
“You are a witch.” Gretel sobbed, feeling the heated blaze burn her hands as she thrust in the last piece of pine. The ax from outside used to cut the wood lay hidden in the folds of her skirt.
A roundhouse slap rocked the girl back against the stove, the fire caught at the threads of a sleeve. In desperation, she waved her arm like a living torch into the face of her stepmother.
“My hair.” The woman screeched as flames licked up the long golden mane attached to her head. With an unearthly howl, she buried her head in a bucket of water. Gretel yelled at Hansel for help while swinging the long heavy ax as best she could at Marie’s legs.
With an oath, their stepmom gasped for breath, pulling her doused head into view. Smelly, curled, withered ends of blackened hair made a cap of her head. Scorched, reddened flesh blushed below. She danced out of Gretel’s reach, one leg limping from where the girl had struck her with the ax handle.
Marie’s eyes seemed to have melted away into black pits on her face. “Over here. Come and get me.” Hansel screamed, pounding on the iron bars of the cage so many children had spent their last horrified minutes within.
“You little devils. What have you done to me?” Maddened beyond belief, Marie dove towards the sound, arms flailing to catch the boy. She had him trapped. All he could do is scramble back into the cell.
“Here. Catch.” Gretel had taken time to drown her arm in the bucket of water Marie left behind. She swung the ax in an arc and let it fly, hopefully in the direction of Hansel to protect himself.
Marie turned and rose at the sound of the girl. Her nose split in two as she took the sharp blade in the face. A charge of adrenaline jerked the ax into her waiting hands. Shattered teeth rattled to the ground at her feet. A grizzly smile widened into a blood-drenched hole where her mouth had been.
Keening wordlessly, she swung the ax slamming the cage door shut with her and Hansel inside.
The boy let out a horrified cry. Gretel screamed helplessly.
The shadowy figure of their father wove into the open cabin doorway. “You whore.” A shot rang out, toppling Marie Geleen to fall forward over Hansel’s body, driving them both to the ground. Blood pulsed hotly to wash over the boy’s weeping face.
“Father. How did you find us?” Gretel hugged his knee fiercely, unable to let go.
“I would have been here sooner. The path was clear. There were the bread crumbs falling from your pocket and the sound of the birds searching for them. It got a little confusing at the last.” He hugged and rocked his daughter to him, carrying them both to open the cage door.
“I knew something was wrong when I woke and called your names. You are such obedient children. You would never have stolen out into the night without cause.”
Hansel bathed her brothers bloody head with water as their father studied his fallen wife and the cabin where she’d plied her wicked taste for childish flesh. “So this is where it went.” Fadder Geleen’s eyes widened at the sight of the treasure horde.
Jewels rolled out onto the floor beside the children’s feet from the heavy bag he’d found on an open shelf. “She not only kidnapped children for her evil ends but the jewelry missing from many a home these past several years.”
“I’d say we burn this place down, but we’ll need it as evidence to be believed. “ The three began picking up the treasure. A low ghostly moan rose the hair on their skin. Marie Geleen wavered slowly on her feet.
Her husband slammed and locked the gate on the cage. His breath seemed to have left his body as his children clung to him in renewed terror. They watched as the witch’s white sepulcher hands clung to the bars holding her up to screech a wild cry without words.
“What will we do with her, papa?” Gretel could not look away from the horrible sight.
“Some might believe I had something to do with her cunning. All we can do is give back what we can and hope there is enough sanity left in my wife to free me from suspicion if she lives that long.”
They left her there in her own gore. The bullet wound was not fatal, the village doctor proclaimed in the morning light. The local sheriff found enough evidence to free Fadder of any guilt. The welcome from the surrounding neighbors and villagers was almost grateful hysteria. They could not reward Hansel, Gretel, and Fadder enough.
The legend of Hansel and Gretel might change through the years but the essence of she who was master of such thievery, kidnapping, and childhood cannibalism would make their names never to be forgotten.