A Hobby Lobby and a Cabela’s Had a Baby
After half an hour of stumbling through the dark after Grendel, Hansel didn’t think he was any better off than following the far flung food in the forest. The monster was so tall that each of his steps was several of Hansel’s. When Grendel finally stopped, Hansel was huffing and puffing. He bent over, hands on his knees, to catch his breath. He felt Grendel looking at him and stood up quickly in a karate stance. Since he didn’t know karate, he wasn’t sure why, but Grendel didn’t know he didn’t know karate, right?
Grendel chuffed an amused snort and Hansel tried to make it look like he was just putting his hands in his hoody pocket. His security beans were still there. Throwing the can would be a better defense than his imaginary karate skills, so he decided to keep its existence his beany secret.
“Mi casa,” said the monster, gesturing at the cave opening in front of him. It was a BIG cave. Grendel went inside without ducking. Hansel hesitated until a soft light glowed from somewhere inside. For him, light would always win over darkness. He followed the monster.
As Hansel walked through the cave, he stared around him at the decor. Decor was really the only word. He knew the word “decor” because Hellen had been really into “decor,” meaning covering every surface of their house with stuff that collected dust, was breakable and expensive, or declared that it was “Wine O’Clock!”
Grendel wasn’t immune to the scripty sayings, either, with “LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE” over the cave entrance in white vinyl letters. They didn’t stick perfectly to cave walls, so it kind of said “AUGH” in the middle. He didn’t seem to be into wine o’clock, but he was super into taxidermy and plastic flowers. Together.
The taxidermy collection was extensive. A deer head mounted to a board covered in fake daisies had two giant green daisies where the eyes should have been. Deer Daddy-O stared groovily at a snarling raccoon with a rose in its mouth and a tail made from a chain of pink and maroon flowers strung like a lei. There was a large rattlesnake with a blue tulip where its head should have been. There was more. Hansel felt a little nauseous. He also wondered where Grendel got so many artificial flowers in the middle of the woods. The dead animals, he could guess.
“Have a seat,” rumbled Grendel, pointing to a chair made from tree branches and padded with a bearskin. Hansel sat, noticing a gamey smell from the skin, and felt a little worse. Grendel fussed around building a fire in a woodstove with a chimney puncturing the ceiling. “You hungry?”
“No, I’m definitely not hungry,” Hansel answered.
“Suit yourself. I’m pretty full, so if…you…change……” The monster trailed off, realizing he was full of Hansel’s sister. Major faux pas, bringing it up.
Hansel let out a quavering breath. He had a lot of practice NOT CRYING in front of Hellen. It reminded him that danger was several feet away, though, and he curled up on the chair so none of his limbs looked appetizing.
Grendel sighed. “Sorry again, kid. I really am not planning to eat you, if that helps.” He made the “cross my heart” gesture over his hairy chest with one clawed finger. Hansel was not reassured. He was exhausted. He stared into space and tried not to think about his queasy stomach, his dead sister, or his current situation, and fell asleep.
Hansel awoke to the smell of frying bacon, and his stomach signaled the end of its mourning with a long gurgling grumble. He’d been moved to a bed-like platform with a blanket over him. It was an actual blanket, and it smelled like dog. The pallet under him smelled worse. Bacon smelled like ambrosia in comparison. He got up and wandered over to the stove, where Grendel was standing over the pan.
“What’s that?” he asked.
Grendel started, jerking the spatula up and splattering grease on a small kangaroo with a pouch full of glitter-crusted lilies above him. “Don’t do that!”
Hansel snorted. Big scary nine-year-old, sneaking up on monsters.
It was bacon, and there was some bread and butter, and Hansel was starving. He ate a big plate of all of it, standing at the one person tree trunk and plywood table made for a much taller monster. The bacon tasted a little funny, not spoiled, but not like supermarket bacon. He finally thought to ask what it was.
“What is this?” He held up one shiny, crispy strip.
“I guess you would call it ‘bacon,’ but it’s from a wild boar. I cure it myself.”
That was a huge relief. The other possibilities (Gretel leftovers) didn’t bear thinking about.
Grendel sat on the bearskin chair and rested his chin on his hand, contemplating Hansel. “How are we going to get you home?” he asked.
Hansel, after a night’s sleep and a meal, knew the answer. “I’m not going home.”
Grendel’s eyes went very wide. “Well you can’t stay here!” he blurted, a growl creeping into his deep voice.
Hansel rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to stay here, duh. I have to go somewhere, but I can’t go home. I need to go to my aunt’s house. She’ll know what to do.” Aunt Linda was a bit of a mystery, but she always sent $5 in a card on Hansel’s birthday. She lived on the other side of the vast forest, though, and it wouldn’t be simple to get there from here.
“So you need directions?” Grendel said with some forced cheer.
Hansel sighed. “You aren’t going to like this, but no. I need you take me. It’s a long way, and I will just get lost and eaten by something else if you don’t come. You OWE me that much.” Hansel leveled a world-class you-will-do-this-young-man look at the monster, and was surprised to see it had the same effect as Hellen’s had on him.
“I don’t guess a map will change your mind?”
“What if it was a very nice map?”
Grendel looked around his cave, clearly his favorite place, filled with his favorite things, and slumped. “I’ll have to pack.”
“You do that. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” and Hansel went outside to pee on a tree while the monster prepared for their journey.