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On the Sweetness of Children

Michelle Muenzler was born in the broken pines of East Texas where she fought boys with concrete-sharpened pine spears and mastered squeezing through rabbit trails for quick escapes in the games of childhood war. Her short fiction can be found in publications such as Electric Velocipede, Space & Time Magazine, and Belong: Interstellar Immigration Stories.

The princess waves her pudgy arms and regurgitates half-digested milk into a puddle across her christening robe. Above her, the Green Fairy clutches the edge of the crib and leans in.
"For my gift--" A spasm shudders through the Green Fairy's wings, and droplets of sweat bead like honey across her brow. "For my gift," she begins again, "the princess shall always--"
Her eyes pop wide. She wheezes. Claws at her chest. The king and queen hold their breath. At the corner of the Green Fairy's lip, bubbles of spit rise and burst. Her face turns eggshell white. Then blue.
"Always... hunger. For... for... " Her wings spasm once more, then twice, then thrice, and she collapses onto the floor. She does not move again.
Saints glower across the vaulted ceiling. In the crib, the princess reaches upward and begins to wail.
"You're fat," the Chamberlain's daughter says. Her lips are thin, like bits of frosting piped too quick along the contours of her face. Her fingers point like limp strings of licorice.
The princess squeezes her eyes shut and shoves another fistful of raspberry torte into her mouth. The pit of her stomach yawns and groans.
A week later, the Chamberlain's daughter is found at the bottom of the palace well, bloated and soggy like milk-sopped cake. Only her fingers are unaccounted for.
The well is covered over and a new one dug.
The princess is queen by her sixteenth birthday. Nobody officially questions the circumstances of her parents' deaths. Rumors of cream puffs and cannibalism spread quietly through the countryside.
"Witch!" the villagers cry. They beat the castle's front gates, whip their torches against the iron-barred oak. "She eats children! Feeds their souls to cats!"
On the first count, the villagers are correct--she has eaten children. Three of them this winter alone. But the first hardly counted--more bone than flesh. She almost choked nibbling the furtive flesh of his ring finger.
As for the cats, none have been sighted in the palace since last Lent.
In the courtyard, her guards fling open the gates and embrace the mob that spills over them. She should not have jested about the tenderness of the Captain's ribs last week. Even guards have breaking points, peanut brittle thin. Before the villagers can find her, she stuffs her pockets with shortbread cookies and flees through a secret tunnel dug behind the pantry.
The villagers find the latest missing child in a cage crying sugar-drop tears, surrounded by lemon tarts and apple turnovers.
She builds a house, deep in the forest. A house of gingerbread, thick curls of frosting, and gumdrops the size of her fist. She has never eaten a house before and hopes it will quiet her ever-moaning stomach. But then the children come. One by one by two by three by more. Dancing and laughing and nibbling at her corners.
Gingerbread has always been bad for her blood sugar. Children are an entirely different affair.
The little girl pokes her head from the oven. "I cannot light it," she says. Blonde tendrils of hair cling to her brow like drifts of spun sugar. "I don't know how."
Her brother, still too thin, stares from the corner, caged by stale cinnamon-spiraled buns and candied walnuts. The witch has baked and baked, but the children refuse everything but scraps of bone. She has never known a child who did not love sweets.
The girl licks her lips with a quiet flick of the tongue. "Will you show me how?"
The witch shudders. "Hand me the match," she says, and crawls into the oven. Squeezes tight like frosting into a pastry bag.
But sticky tongues of flame already lick the back of the oven. Behind the witch, the door closes and latches shut.
"How do you think she'll taste?" asks the girl. The oven door muffles her voice thick like cream frosting.
Sweet, hopes the witch, sweet as sugared dough, and wonders if she will have a chance to taste before she dies.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Author Comments

I blame this story on my friend Eric and the birth of his adorable daughter, little Viviana. I immediately knew Viviana was going to suffer from a Sleeping Beauty gone wrong scenario, but the level of her descent into cannibalism was quite the surprise. On the bright side, the real Viviana is a sweet girl who has yet to devour any of her playmates (or at least none that I've been informed of).

- Michelle Muenzler
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