On the fringes of a dense forest there lived a poor family of four. The father was a poor woodcutter who struggled to make ends meet to provide for his wife, son, and daughter. The boy’s name was Hansel and the girl’s name was Gretel. Though they were poor when it came to wealth, their home was rich with love and happiness. Fate took an exception to their happiness and claimed the life of the poor man’s wife suddenly. Hansel, Gretel, and their father were deeply shocked by her loss. But as time passed, their routine lives blocked the grief out of their hearts.
After a few years, their father remarried and the children got a mother figure in their lives. But their stepmother disliked them very much. To her, Hansel and Gretel were two mouths that she had to feed though they didn’t add to the income of the household. Their once-happy home seemed like a dream, a memory from another life. To make matters worse, a great famine gripped their land. The poor woodcutter was suddenly at a loss to provide their daily bread. This deepened the ill-feeling the stepmother nursed towards for Hansel and Gretel.
One evening as he was staring into nothingness, worrying about his problems, the woodcutter sighed and asked his wife, “This famine shows no sign of ending soon. Our lives are going to become even more difficult.. if that’s even possible. How are we going to feed our children when we can’t find food for ourselves?”
“I have an idea that can solve half our problems.” answered the woman. “As soon as the sun comes us tomorrow, we shall take the two children out into the thickest part of the woods. We shall make a fire for them, and give each of them a little piece of bread, then leave them by themselves and go off to our work. I am sure that they will not find their way back home, and we will be rid of them.”
“No, that’s cruel!,” said the man. “I cannot do that. I will not do that. How can I guide my own children to such a cruel fate? Alone in the woods! They won’t last even one day in the wilderness, all by themselves. They would end up as a tasty dinner for some wild animals!”
“Oh, you fool,” she said, “If you refuse to do so, then all four of us will starve to death. You might as well start digging our graves.” The cunning woman that she was, she gave him no peace until he agreed.
“But I do feel terrible for doing this to the poor children,” said the man.
The stepmother went to sleep, happy that her wicked plan was going to come true. But the children’s father tossed and turned about, unable to come to terms with the plan. He woke up and went into the next room where Hansel and Gretel slept peacefully, unaware of their terrible fate. As he looked at their innocent faces, he was overcome by remorse. Although he had promised his wife, he was not going to go through with the plan. He had come up with a plan of his own to save his children.
At daybreak, even before the sunrise, the woman came and awoke the two children. “Get up, you lazybones. We are going into the woods to fetch wood.” Then she gave each one a little piece of bread, saying, “Here is some bread for you. Do not finish it at once. That’s all you are going to get for the day.”
Together, the four of them set off on a journey into the woods,
When they arrived in the middle of the woods, the father said, “Let us gather some wood, and make a fire to guard ourselves against the cold.”
When the twigs were gathered, piled, set afire, and the flames were burning high, the stepmother said, “Your father and I are going to gather wood. The two of you can rest here until we return. We shall collect you and then proceed home.” Saying this, the wicked woman proceeded to drag her hesitant husband home, leaving the children at the mercy of the forces of nature.
And so Hansel and Gretel waited patiently by the fire. They had eaten their little bread pieces long ago. They waited and waited. Soon they grew tired and slowly drifted off to very deep sleep. The pangs of hungry woke them up. Dusk had already set in. The once-raging fire was dying, giving way to smoldering embers. The cold air threatened to seep into their bones and make their teeth rattle.
As the darkness grew around them, the siblings consoled each other. Their father had not had even one happy hour since he had left the children in the woods. After dusk, he managed to slip out of the house, unknown to his cunning wife, and he hurried to the place where he had left his children.
The last of the embers were dying when he found Hansel and Gretel. The children were overjoyed and relieved to find their father. They hugged each other as tears of joy streamed down their faces.
“I am putting an end to your suffering at the hands of my cruel wife. Come with me, children. I know a friend who can help us and give shelter to us. We will be finally free from the clutches of your evil stepmother.”
The father led his children into the woods. The bright moonlight guided them as they travelled deeper and deeper into the woods. They were terribly hungry, but that didn’t stop them. Every time they got so tired that their legs could no longer carry them, they lay down under a tree and took a break. They walked through the entire night and the next day from morning until evening. At dusk, they saw a little house in a clearing that was built entirely from bread, with a roof made of cake, and the windows were made of clear sugar. A lantern shone brightly near the fence that was made of licorice.
The father knocked on the door that had a handle made of chocolate. The door opened, and there appeared a woman, wrinkled, bend over and leaning on a crutch. Hansel and Gretel were so frightened that they let out small shrieks.
But their father shook her head and said, “Dear children, fret not. This is Agatha, an accomplished witch and a dear friend of mine. We will be safe here until I can find a new home for us.”
Turning to Agatha, the woodcutter said, “Agatha, you frightened them dearly. What is with this ragged appearance? Now that you know it’s just me and the children, why don’t you reveal your true self?”
Agatha smiled in reply and with a blinding flash of light turned into her usual self. Gone was the wrinkled, old woman. A young woman with kind eyes and a beautiful smile stood in her place. She was nothing like the terribly scary witches in the many stories that Hansel and Gretel had heard a lot.
She smiled at them and opened the door wider. “Well, don’t just stand there. Come in, dears. You can stay with me. No harm will come to you. I can assure you.”
She led them into her house, where she served them a heavy meal of milk, pancakes with sugar, truffle, apples, raisins, and nuts. Around Agatha’s dining table, the woodcutter and his children found happiness once again under the kind and gentle care of Agatha the witch.
P.S: The moral of the story is that not all witches are bad and scary. 😉 Case in point: We have got people like Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, Minerva McGonagall, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley and many others! Oh, and Agatha too. 😉
Disclaimer: No fairies were injured in the making of this short story. But I can’t say the same about their egos though! Also, stepmothers can be kind too. But that’s a story for another day.
I hope you enjoyed this version of Hansel and Gretel! This was longer than my usual stories. But it’s difficult to re-write a classic fairy tale as a short story. So my next fairy tale with a twist will be published in installments. 😉
Stay tuned for Pitch Black and the Seven Dwarves! Coming soon, only on My Random Ramblings. 😀
This fairy tale with a twist was inspired by the picture prompt for last week’s Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge. This weekly challenge is hosted by Fandango and our mission is to write a flash fiction piece or a poem inspired by the given photo prompt.
Image courtesy: Pixabay
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© 2020 Shweta Suresh. All rights reserved.