After Saving Hansel, Gretel Found Herself / Donna J.W. Munro

Mysterious forest, with trees covered in ivy.
 

CONTENT WARNING: child abandonment and death.

***

Since the first people walked, babes have been tossed from cliffs, left on temple steps, smothered—shut the mouth you don’t want to feed. Like so many before him, my father dragged me through the woods, laughing at my tears. He left a crust of bread and not a backward glance.

I rocked in the dark, trees tight woven over my head holding my cries inside the wood, sipping my tears. I was only ten years old.

Hunger drummed a mellow throb in my gut, like it always had. Three brothers and five sisters—did I eat so much? But being the ninth wasn’t the only reason he’d turned me out. He damned me because winds followed my feet and crops sweetened where I walked. You’d think a farmer might value my gifts, but no. He’d taken his vows in a church and read from the book of the risen God every night after our porridge. Suffer not a witch to live.

The forest took pity on me as I wandered. Ripe fruits landed in my lap. Butterflies flitted by, drawing me to clean water. My gifts pulled sweetness from green plants I grew in a clearing. Their sugar turned into walls, doors and windows in a house of my making. My home. What softened in the rain, the forest regrew, and the bees and the hummingbirds took nibbles to fuel their flights each day. But the little ones always came to my doorstep and I’m no mother.

Every time parents abandoned their child to the forest, I wished another child would be brave enough. Would withstand the winding paths and the starvation. I’d been in the woods for so long.

But the children didn’t survive my tests. My house and my oven tested them and their failed again and again. It’s easy to judge from outside the wood, but inside, metal is tested. Nothing is given unless a price is paid. Nature isn’t kind and neither am I. So many little bones buried in my garden, I hear them clacking together at night.

Many almost made it. If they had, what they would do with my candy house? Would they leave it rot and go home to parents who’d abandoned them? Revenge themselves on the careless village that allowed them to be treated like trash, pitched away and forgotten. They’d have the power to do it.

Or would they step into my shoes and test others, as I’d learned to do. They called me a witch, but I had a job to do, like every other creature of the wood. Couldn’t have little children wandering free, destroying the balance with their thumbs and their needing. Besides, I was kind. I released them from pain. Their reed spirits baptized by fire found the next place. A place where maybe they’d be loved. Valued.

But I was tired.

Steely-eyed Gretel offered my deliverance. She passed my tests and saved Hansel, setting him free before I shoved him into the oven. She stood so tall for a girl, clutching the broom she’d swept with as a cudgel, pushing me to the oven. Oh how she shone and I knew I’d finally been bested. I whispered secrets so my gifts passed to her between the breaths she took for strength. Then she revenged the souls I’d freed with one great shove as Hansel, the little fool, danced around the oven with glee.

The world turns. Wintery death gives room for spring.

So I let myself burn.

***

Donna J. W. Munro has spent the last nineteen years teaching high school social studies. Her students inspire her every day. She has an MA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill Writing University. Her pieces are published in Dark Moon Digest # 34, Syntax and Salt, Sirens Ezine, the Haunted Traveler, Flash Fiction Magazine, Astounding Outpost, Door=Jar, Spectators and Spooks Magazine, Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Killing It Softly 2 (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), and several Thirteen O’Clock Press anthologies. 

See more: donnajwmunro.com