“Burn, bitch, burn,“ Gretel shouted as flames engorged the old woman’s cottage. As she and Hansel turned to run from the forest, they heard ear-piercing popping sounds. When they looked back, they saw scorched gingerbread men falling to the ground from their burned perches around the house. As the gingerbread men hit the ground, they glowed red, and their ashy ghosts soared upward. An incredible mass of inflamed cookies circled the siblings, causing them to resume their running.

Hansel caught a sharp turn around a tree and then felt something heavy clamp around his right leg. He had become ensnared in a bear trap. Or was it meant to trap something or someone else? He howled so precisely that nearby coyotes took up a chorus and harmonized with him until Gretel found him and recoiled in horror as the trap’s teeth had buried themselves deep into Hansel’s right leg.

“I can’t open this contraption, Hansel. We’ll have to cut you out,” she said.

“But my leg …”

“… will grow back. You know that. We could have just as easily stayed in that house and burned with the devil’s slut and lived another day, but I didn’t want to risk my hair,” she said, tossing her thick braids over her shoulders.

“Okay. But how are we going to do it?”

“With magic, silly. You know that.”

Gretel clapped one hand into the palm of the other and a golden axe appeared in her hands.

“Close your eyes, you big baby,” she said, arcing the axe above her head. “I’ll count to three. This won’t hurt a bit. You know that from experience. Ready? One. Two …”

Gretel slammed the axe through Hansel’s leg, severing his caught ankle from his shinbone. Hansel had no idea when it happened because he didn’t look and he was unaware what Gretel was doing when she chopped the axe on her own mental count. And he felt no pain. By the time he opened his eyes, his old foot had shriveled to dust inside his boot and he already had a new foot.

“Can you imagine that that trap might have been there for months and never snapped and then you come along and jam your foot right into it? What are the odds?”

“Shut up. Will you help me up please?” Gretel reached for her brother’s hand, pulling him to his feet. He grabbed the axe and pretended to swing it toward her head.

“You do that and I’ll make sure you really die. Do you know how long it would take me to grow my hair back? You know the spell doesn’t work on hair,” she said, watching as Hansel pulled up his pants leg and pulled down his sock to reveal a naked shin. Not that puberty had fully thrust itself upon him yet, but he had had some hair there before. “It’s not like you’d miss that hair anyhow.”

The fiery gingerbread men hovered overhead, waiting to swarm the duo with their hot tongues and hands. Hansel and Gretel stretched their arms, a signal to each other to run in opposite directions. But as they began to run, the gingerbread men quickly counteracted, throwing fireballs at bunched trees, setting them on fire. They continued to throw fireballs until they had a wide area covered with burning trees, encircling the siblings within a fierce hellish cauldron.

“They don’t know we can’t die,” Hansel yelled over the crackling din. “We might as well let them see us burn. If we hold our breath while we do it, that will prolong how long we take to regenerate.”

“That might be the smartest thing you’ve said all day,” she said as she grabbed Hansel’s hand again—but to steady herself this time. “But my hair? It will take weeks to grow back. What will I do until then?”

“I don’t know. Wear a hat? If we don’t do something to detour these flying fiends, we’ll drag them all the way home with us, doing who knows what damage along the way. We can’t put other people at risk.”

“I know, I know. I’m just vain. You have to forgive me that much, right?”

“Never, sis. Never. But if we’re going to do this, we need to do it now.”

Although she was two years older than Hansel, Gretel jumped on her brother’s back and urged him toward a strong burning fire near the old woman’s house. Doing this gave the ghouls the impression that Hansel and Gretel were giving up. The gingerbread men huddled together to watch the pair sizzle and snap like all the fiery branches. In one massive blackened streak, the gingerbread men flew in a jagged pattern back to the old woman’s house.

Hansel and Gretel burned to leathery ashes and then reformed into their old beings. They hid behind a huge smoldering oak tree that had scars all across its trunk but had just barely survived the onslaught. They watched the gingerbread men settle back on the ground and enter the old woman’s home. To their amazement, they saw the old woman walk out from what had been her front door and begin to touch burnt portions of her home, which immediately turned into solid pieces of their former structures. She looked just as she had when the teenagers pushed her into the bread kiln and set her house on fire: burned to crunchy ashes.

“I know you kids are out there. Where do you think you got the power?” she wheezed. “Come and let Granny take care of you. I’ll be sure to forgive you. I’d never take the power away from you.”

As Hansel and Gretel turned to run, they came face to face with some gingerbread men who had stayed behind. They fought back valiantly, but it wasn’t enough to overpower their stronghold. They dragged the two back to the old woman’s house, who had now begun to transform into an even uglier version of herself—if that were even possible.

“Come in, my dears. Let’s get acquainted once again,” the old woman said, setting coals in her kiln and lighting them with a long match and then opening a large book of ancient spells.

 

 

About the Author

Christopher Stolle’s writing has appeared most recently in Tipton Poetry Journal, Flying Island, Edify Fiction, Contour, The New Southern Fugitives, The Gambler, Gravel, The Light Ekphrastic, Sheepshead Review, and Plath Poetry Project. He works as an acquisitions and development editor for Penguin Random House, and he lives in Richmond, Indiana.