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Sugar and Spice

Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. She loves to write twisted fairy tales. Click here to see what she's been up to: carpelibris.wordpress.com.

Melissa Mead's series of Twisted Fairy Tales for Daily Science Fiction can be found here.

"It's time to take the children into the forest," said Stepmother.
Father winced. "Must we?" he said. I winced too. All the feasting in the world couldn't erase my memory of Stepmother angry, back when she was teaching me and Gretel to call her "Stepmother," and the man "Father."
But Stepmother just looked at him. "There is no food in the house," she said, slowly, reminding Father what an awful thing hunger is. My stomach growled like it was reminding him too. Father looked ill, and Stepmother smiled.
They left us in a new part of the forest, with no nut trees or berry bushes at all. Gretel and I both had empty stomachs by the time we found the gingerbread house. I'd eaten a shutter, and Gretel was chewing her way through a window, when we heard an old woman's voice.
"Nibble, nibble, little mouse. Who is nibbling at my house?"
I was too addled with sugary sweetness to reply, but Gretel is the clever one. No amount of food ever scrambles her wits. That's why we always stay together.
"It is the wind, only the wind!" she called back. Clever Gretel!
Of course, the old witch didn't believe we were only the wind. She pulled us both from the window and took us inside. Me she put in a pen, and gave me all the food I could dream of. Cakes and blood pudding. Pies and roast boar and sausages so hot they burned my mouth. I ate and ate.
Gretel she chained. Gretel is the clever one. The old witch made her sweep the floor and fetch water and put the kettle on the stove. Gretel did all that, but she watched me eating and eating, and her eyes burned. I ate faster. Things happen quickly when Gretel's eyes burn.
The old witch clapped her hands. "Genius," she said. "I've never seen such lifelike, versatile changelings. I'll have to take you apart and see what you're made of."
"I'm hungry," said Gretel.
The old witch looked at me. "Perhaps I'll give you a bite of this one, once he's nicely fattened." She smiled at me the way Stepmother smiled at Father when it was time to go into the forest. "How would you like to be the one eaten instead of the eater for a change?"
Gretel opened the oven door. "I'm hungry," she said.
"Hey now, away from there!" The old witch moved to stand between Gretel and the oven door. "I don't know which of my rivals was foolish enough to let her changelings run loose, but I'll not have you taking the Fire Road back to her."
"I'm hungry," Gretel said, and pushed the old woman into the oven.
Stepmother was there in a blink. She'd dragged Father along the Air Road with her too. She pushed Gretel away from the oven.
"No, no, Gretel my sweet. That's not for you. But you and Hansel can have the house and everything else you can find in it to eat. A reward for a job well done."
Father wouldn't look at the stove. He was the color of moldy cheese, and held his hands over his ears. "You got what you wanted. Your rival's dead. Take your changelings away and give me my real children back."
I flinched. He'd tried to command Stepmother! But Stepmother laughed.
"You think she was my only enemy? Oh no. I have many." She patted my head. "And Hansel and Gretel will be hungry again tomorrow."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Author Comments

When I was a kid, Hansel and Gretel really bothered me. I loved the idea of a house made of candy, but the abandoning kids in the woods, fattening them up for dinner, and pushing people into ovens really upset me.

Even as an adult, I've wondered where on Earth that came from. I figured that maybe the witch wasn't really human. Maybe the stepmother wasn't. Heck, maybe Hansel and Gretel weren't! Maybe they were constructs of pure appetite. And maybe, just maybe, one of them began to develop the faintest hint of empathy.

- Melissa Mead
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