Grendel Explains Himself Before the Musical Number
Hansel turned to behold the bearer of the voice, a sevenish-foot-tall, very hairy, brown, humanish creature snacking on the remains of the ham in his right palm. He was dressed in some furry shorts of a slightly lighter brown fur than his own fur, and nothing else. With Gretel already on the ground, Hansel could run and be pretty certain of getting away, but the creature’s words had thrown him.
“What?” he said.
“Bigfoot is an attention junkie. Always leaving footprints around and posing, and pretending like he doesn’t want his picture taken. Like when some knight comes riding in to save the day talking about his noble quest, and really all he wants to do is lop off your head so the girls will throw themselves at him. Just in it for himself.” The creature took another large bite of ham, showing a mouthful of pointy teeth to go with the claws on his fingertips.
Hansel didn’t follow all that, but it didn’t sound like something a monster said right before he ate you. The classic lines were “Raaaawr” and “I’m gonna eat you,” not grumbling about the popular kid. “Um. Who are you, then?”
“Oh, sorry, I’m Grendel.” The monster extended his arm to shake, and realizing it was a ham-fisted attempt, shifted the ham to the other hand and wiped the grease on his furry shorts. Hansel took the still greasy hand in a limp grip, barely able to circle thumb and pinky around the edges of the palm, and let go quickly, wiping his now-greasy palm on his jeans.
“I’m Hansel. This is my sister, Gretel.” Gretel was peering suspiciously at the monster, still on the ground but no longer feigning a faint. “What’s a Grendel?”
The monster frowned. “Nobody knows who I am anymore. It’s like sitting around the fire drinking mead and reciting epic poetry isn’t cool.” He straightened, flexing, and said in a loud, rehearsed voice, “I am Grendel, slayer of kings and courts, good son, and main character in the first act of Beowulf. As you can see,” here he held out one mighty arm, “the dire death wrought by Beowulf was a greatly exaggerated rumor, for I stand before thee twice-armed and thrice-charmed.” He bounced his bushy eyebrows and waited.
“Bay-O-what?” Hansel said. Gretel did a pretty convincing impression of a toad who thinks you stole her fly but can’t prove it. Silent, staring, rotund.
Grendel narrowed his eyes. “You are trying to tell me you haven’t heard of Beowulf the Big Hero?” Both kids shook their heads. “Oh, well, actually, he’s nobody. I’m just a guy who lives in the woods and I have a thing where I grow a lot of extra hair, medical thing.”
Hansel shrugged. The day was already very strange. A monster with an old-timey backstory who wanted to cover it up was better than a monster tearing your head off. Also, Hansel had thought more than once that day about what he would tell someone if they were found. Going home to Dad and Hellen seemed like a two-way trip back to the woods, but sharper and more final, probably involving the grave they’d literally stumbled into.
Gretel finally roused herself from whatever thought process was required for her to continue.
“Where’d you get that ham?” she asked, as if there were multiple explanations for hams in the forest.
“I found it, following you two,” Grendel replied, and grinned. His grin was unsettling, because it showed all the sharp stalactites and stalagmites in his cavernous mouth. “Why are you throwing all your food away? Not that I’m complaining about a free buffet, but it seemed weird.”
Hansel thought this was a very good question as well, and waited for Gretel’s answer with a raised eyebrow.
“I was marking our trail, but now you’ve eaten my markers! Bad Grendel!” Gretel wailed on the ground. Her foolproof plan to reset them to the amount of lost they were when she started throwing food now had obvious flaws.
Hansel sighed. He knew starting a food fight wouldn’t get them anywhere good at this point. The monster’s furred face scrunched up as he watched the tantrum build steam on the forest floor. “She always like that?” he asked the boy.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Hansel answered.
Gretel stiffened her spine. “Oh, you don’t know what rough is, you monster,” she said, rising clumsily, using the picnic basket for support. “Why, I can tell you about rough…I can tell you everything I’ve learned in my short life in one…grace…note.” Gretel struck a dramatic pose, her milkmaid costume riding up to show her heavy duty tights, stained and torn from her misadventures.
“Not now,” Hansel hissed, but she was too far into her number to turn back now.