Gretel’s Girl Scout Badges Were Counterfeit
“You will follow me because I say so!” Gretel was stomping her chubby foot on the end of her chubby leg, and it was the kind of flamboyant punctuation that shouldn’t make it past a rough draft.
“All I was saying is that we seem to be going away from the trail, and I think we need to be able to find our way back to it?” Striking out overland was not spitting them out on the road as Gretel had insisted it would. It was spitting them into the darkest part of the forest, and as the day wore on, Hansel was uneasy. He wanted to be spit somewhere else.
“Geez, you’re such a whiner. Fine. Do like Dad and chop a little notch in the tree trunks, and we’ll follow those back.”
“With what?” Hansel wasn’t surprised that the finer points of her plan were lacking.
“Your hatchet, doofus.” Hansel waited for reality to hit Gretel, but it never did.
“First off, I’m not a doofus, you are. Second, you see my hatchet anywhere?” He lifted his arms and spun in an extravagant circle.
“Oh.” Gretel glared at him as if neglecting to pack survival gear for a supposed “picnic” was a moral failing. “Well, what’s your big idea?”
Hansel shrugged. His big idea was to go back to the trail right now and find the road, but she’d already vetoed that. Without another word, Gretel whirled and walked in a new random direction. Hansel sighed and trudged after her.
The sun kissed the tops of the trees, lingering like an old aunt with inappropriate boundaries. Shadows crept over the underbrush, bushes, and small trees they were plunging through.
“OOF!” Gretel suddenly disappeared, dropping the basket with a thud and clatter of silverware. Hansel struggled through waist high brambles to see if the food was okay, and possibly aid his sister. Gretel was slowly getting up, brushing off her ruffled skirt and rearranging her embroidered brown vest. Why she had to wear her Halloween costume everywhere, looking like some kind of German pastry ad, Hansel had no idea. He liked his jeans and hoodies, his brown hair not-too-long and not-too-short, and his regular face that didn’t call too much attention to itself. When someone did notice his aquamarine eyes, it was awkward, so he looked down most of the time. Gretel never looked down, hence the falling.
“Get away!” Gretel shrieked when he reached for the basket. “Get more away!” she shrieked when he tried to help her. Hansel felt the special resignation reserved for siblings you might need but really didn’t want.
“Gretel. We have to keep moving. Your hair looks fine.” She was rebraiding it in a coil around her head. It looked like three cats had fought a pitched battle over a bird’s nest in it, but he wasn’t going to stand there and watch her try to perfect it. Gretel huffed and patted her braids several more times before moving forward 100 feet and falling again.
“ACK!” There was a delay from the “ack” to the “smack,” and Hansel hurried to see why. This time, Gretel had fallen into a pit about six feet deep, and four feet square. Very curiously exactly square, Hansel noticed. His noticing was overwhelmed by the screeching.
“GET ME OUT OF HERE! IT’S SO DARK! I’M TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE!” Hansel rolled his eyes. Gretel started yodeling, something she did when truly upset, and it had the intended effect. Hansel would do whatever it took to stop her, even if all his food hadn’t also been at stake. He circled the pit, looking for a way to get his very heavy sister back to the surface.
“OW.” Looking down, he saw he’d stubbed his toe on a shovel handle. Also curious. He picked it up and squinted at it. It seemed familiar. “A. Woodsman” was burned into the wooden handle. Hansel felt the special resignation reserved for parents you might need but really didn’t want. Now he knew for sure what the pit (grave) was.
Gretel’s yodel slowly decreased in volume as he dug an improvised ramp into the pit (grave). When she saw it was possible to climb out, her “yodel lay ee hoooooo” whistled down to nothing. The sudden silence was not complete. A branch snapped in the forest followed by a soft hissing sound.
“What was that? SNAKES?!?” Gretel opened her mouth to yodel again and Hansel shushed her emphatically. The woods were quiet. Must have been a deer or something.
“Hand up the basket,” Hansel said, holding his hand in basket receiving mode.
“No. You’ll run away and leave me here.” Gretel would not hand him the basket, and insisted on his help climbing out of the pit (grave) while clutching it. After a few tense moments, he was able to heave her and the food up the ramp.
After catching their breath, Hansel thought he’d contributed enough life saving to the group effort to broach the subject of going the wrong direction again. “Maybe we should make sure we can get back to the trail?”
Gretel scowled at him for a moment, but then her small, dull eyes popped open like round little marbles. “I know! I can use this!” She held the basket up so near to Hansel’s face that he flinched back. He had no idea what she meant, but as long as she didn’t try to beat him to death with the basket, whatever.
Gretel started into the forest, humming now in self-satisfaction. After a few dozen steps, she reached into the basket and pulled out a bun.
“Hey!” Hansel yelled. “Don’t eat without me!” He suspected that half the food was already eaten without him, but this was bold. He held out his hand.
Gretel turned, looked him straight in the eye, and threw the bun as hard as she could back the way they’d come, over his head and into the forest. Hansel was too surprised to attempt a catch on the popover fly.