Musicals Aren’t For Everyone, It Seems

“A woodsman’s daughter with a simple life, a happy family ‘til he lost his wife,” Gretel sang in a trembling soprano. She was surprisingly on-key for someone so unpleasant.

Hansel was resigned to listening to the whole thing, which would probably take at least seven or eight minutes. Once Gretel got going, she was hard to stop. He did walk a few paces away to avoid being sucked into the chorus and heard another sound. An inharmonious sound. It sounded like growling, but much, much larger.

Gretel was winding herself up to launch into the meat of her song, which seemed to be an improvised lament about being abandoned in the woods and losing a ham. It was okay, except for the one line refrain, “…and Hansel was no help at all.”

Hansel heard the basso growl again, closer, and realized it was coming from Grendel, who was advancing on Gretel with his claws raised and teeth bared. “Hey, Grets?” Hansel called, knowing she’d never break the moment. The fourth wall was going to be the least of her concerns, though, after the wall of unhappy monster hit her. “Grendel?” he said weakly. Hansel’s chances of stopping Grendel seemed to be even less than interrupting his sister’s moment. “Guys?”

“And I said we should never fail, as I super-smartly marked our trail…” Gretel sang, rising into the climax of the song. Her arms rose as the note in “trail” crested and she acted out throwing the ham to the imagined beat. Grendel was a few inches from her, and Gretel, too in character to notice, punched him in the nose with her miming hand.

There was a soprano scream, and a lot of growling and gnashing of teeth, and really a lot of rending and tearing. Grendel did not take his time to savor the girl. Hansel, being nine and very surprised by this turn of events, stood and watched, grimacing at any particularly squelchy sounds. There hadn’t been any time to intervene, and judging from the carnage, Hansel would have merely been the next course.

“I hate singing.” Grendel shook the blood off his fingers and wiped his hands with the little apron from Gretel’s costume. The cheery embroidered ducks at the bottom swam in a crimson sea.

“YOU ATE MY SISTER!” Hansel yelled. It belatedly occurred to him that he should have run while the monster was occupied. Now he was the center of attention and running probably wasn’t going to work.

“Oh, well, yes, I guess I did.” Grendel shrugged. “Were you two close?”

Hansel had to think about that. No, they hadn’t been close. Gretel made his entire life miserable. He didn’t know what to say, though. Could he tell a monster he’d just met his deepest secret desire? To be rid of his sister forever?

“I guess not,” he mumbled. “Are you going to eat me next?” This both changed the subject and got them into more important material.

“Are you going to break out in a musical number?”

“Ugh, no.” Hansel realized he wouldn’t ever have to play second fiddle again, or any fiddle, for that matter, to his sister’s big dramatic solos. “I will never, ever start singing.”

“Nothing to worry about then. See you around!” Grendel walked a few paces toward the trees he’d appeared from. Hansel looked around at the mostly eaten Gretel and ham, and felt very not good about suddenly being alone and lost in the forest.

“WAIT!” he yelled. “You can’t just walk off and leave me!” He scrambled after the confused monster. “I’m nine!” He realized that hadn’t stopped his father, but he hoped the Gretel-snarfling hairball had more paternal instinct.

“I’m more of a solo act, kid.” Grendel looked down at the scared little boy, and his shoulders slumped. “You weren’t, though, were you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“No, I wasn’t. I have no idea where I am, all my food is ruined, and if you’re out here, what else is? How long am I gonna last wandering around?”

“If I say ‘not long,’ does that help?” Grendel earned a look that singed his fur even in the dimming light. The monster paced back and forth in the clearing, thinking about his options, making the ground tremble in suspense. Hansel watched him without speaking. Other kids might beg and cry, but Hansel could read the room. Even monsters would have to fill the silence eventually.

After five full minutes, Hansel realized monster time and human time might not be the same, and eventually might be 100 years from now. “Well?” he challenged. “You ate my sister and now you owe me.” He wasn’t clear what he was owed, in Grendel’s ethos it might be a live pig, but if Hansel could just get to daylight tomorrow, that was something.

The monster sighed heavily, blowing the brown fur around his mouth up so his fangs were on full display. “Come with me for now. I’ll figure out what to do with you tomorrow.”

Hansel was relieved for a few seconds, and then not relieved at all. “Not like ‘which recipe to use,’ okay? No eating me.”

Grendel held up one hairy, clawed hand, palm facing Hansel. “Scout’s honor. I have no current plans to eat you. Follow me.”

The pair walked away from the scene of the snack into the darkness of the tall trees, neither happy with the company.