Hansel and Gretel Are Dumped Like Unwanted Kittens

“Dad, where are you going?” Mr. Woodsman didn’t answer, so the two kids turned up the volume. “DAD! Wait for us!” The two youngsters, a tween girl and a boy of around nine, started after their father. Maybe he’d changed his mind about the day of picnicking he’d drug them into the middle of the woods for. “We’ll stop bickering, we promise!” yelled the boy, Hansel, though it was a promise many times broken.

“I’ll stop whining about the walking!” yelled Gretel, a rotund blonde girl who was unlikely to grow into anything but a circle because of her love of cakes and pies. She hated any kind of exercise, and a day of hiking in the boring, stupid woods hadn’t interested her in the least until her stepmother, Hellen, handed her a large basket of food which she insisted on carrying in order to sneak the sweets. Now it was slowing her down tremendously.

Hansel reached Mr. Woodsman first. “Dad, slow down!” he panted. His jeans and dark green hoody were uncomfortably hot in the fall sunshine.

His father, a slight man with suspenders keeping his pants connected to stooped shoulders, turned suddenly, raising his axe between himself and his only son. Hansel flailed to a stop. “What the heck, Dad?” Gretel gasped a shocked, wheezy sound that was only mostly her allergy to exercise.

“You…you can’t come with me, Hansel. Neither of you. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it’s gotta be. Now stay back and let me do this before I lose my nerve.”

The kids knew their father’s nerves were pretty shot. He jumped every time Hellen told him to do something. He was so flinchy, Hellen’s white rug and white couch had been replaced five or six times because of splashy coffee stains. Hellen had made all their lives kind of flinchy, and Hansel had learned to be cautious about contradicting an adult. He stepped back.

Gretel, on the other hand, had not learned a thing. “What do you mean, Dad? Like, we’re supposed to find our own way home now? Hitchhiking or something? I thought you told us never to do that, and I’m tired anyway. We can have the picnic in the car.”

“You’re not getting in the car, Gretel, and I don’t want you to hitchhike home.” The axe brandishment was not going well, there was a definite tremble now. “Your mom—”

“SHE’S NOT OUR MOM,” both children blurted. Mr. Woodsman’s face hardened.

“See, that’s it right there. Hellen bends over backwards to make a nice home for you children, and are you appreciative? NO. Any chance to be rude, or use her lipstick for drawing on your butt, or accuse her of poisoning your ‘real’ mom, you two…” He shook his head and lowered the axe. “Anyway, Hellen said she was going to leave me for the barber if I didn’t bring you two out here and chop off your heads.”

Hansel took another very wise step or two back and Gretel’s mouth opened into full fly-catching position.

“But Dad, that’s muuuuurder.” Gretel always said it that way, “muuuuurder,” to show she understood the full horror of such a thing.

“Yeah, I think Gretel’s right. You should call the police and stuff.” Hansel knew this stepmother business was going to turn out wrong, since the day of the wedding when Hellen called him “Hershel” and said “Whatever” when he corrected her. He just thought the woman was mean and shallow, not murderous.

Mr. Woodsman leaned on his axe, puffing up his cheeks and blowing the air out like this all made sense but they were being dense. “Well, see, did I chop off anyone’s head?”

He waited for his children to answer his rhetorical question.

“Gretel. Did I chop off your head?” he tried again, slower.

“Umm…no?”

“Good girl. That’s right. You see, I agree with you. Chopping off your heads with an axe was just a bit too far, wasn’t it? So I didn’t. I am leaving you in the woods with a big basket of food, sure in the knowledge that two clever children like you will find some way to survive out here and in fact, be better off in the end for having had the experience.”

That sounded to Hansel like when someone told him anything was “for his own good,” all of which either hurt, were boring, or really were more good for the person telling you that. “Dad, I don’t think that’s legal either, is it?” Hansel was pretty sure it wasn’t, but he didn’t know if abandoning children was a misdemeanor or a felony, or maybe just something you got a ticket for.

Mr. Woodsman pretended not to hear the question by pointing behind the children and exclaiming “What’s THAT??” Both children turned to look. By the time they’d seen it was nothing and turned back, Mr. Woodsman was several hundred yards further down the trail.

“We can still see you!” Gretel yelled. Mr. Woodsman did not answer, but ran a little faster.

The children stood, unsure of what to do next, but certain that having their heads detached would quickly neck down their options. Their father finally disappeared into the forest. He began to whistle a jaunty tune, something about a horse standing around with its foot on the ground, and Hansel and Gretel listened until it abruptly ended at the third verse, which was the same as the first.

“Well, doody,” Gretel said.

“Language.”

“Oh, shove it, Hansel. Anyway, I’m oldest, so I decide what we do and what we can say and who gets to eat who.”

“Whom.”

“Shut up, nerdbrain.”

“You shut up.”

Gretel ignored Hansel and started walking to the left of the path. “I think we should go this way,” she said with undeserved confidence.

Hansel sighed. Unless he wanted to be punched, or left without any food, he’d better follow his dumb sister and the picnic basket. The children walked under the dark canopy, footsteps muffled in thick moss, and wondered who was going to take care of them now.