“TOFU” Stands for Toe Obviously Messed Up

The lights were gleaming from the windows of an extraordinary building. The light itself was extraordinary, shining through panes of glass the colors of jewels. Squares of gold, emerald, ruby, and sapphire invited Hansel and Grendel closer to a life-sized gingerbread house. The peaked roof was iced white despite the season, with a small cotton candy puff of smoke from the chimney. Chocolate candies the size of Hansel’s head dotted the eaves. Enormous red and white curved candy canes stood at each corner with little hanging baskets full of gumdrop flowers dangling tantalizing close to Hansel’s reach. Everywhere he looked, some confection beckoned to the hungry boy. His can of beans was a sorry safeguard against starvation when this was the alternative.

“I guess we found the original story line again,” Grendel mumbled.

“What?”

“Nothing. My toe hurts.”

The monster wasn’t making any sense. Hansel stopped gawking and went to the front door, a cookie with a giant cinnamon candy doorknob. He knocked. Nothing happened, not even the scurrying sounds you usually get when someone needs to get their robe on or put the cat in the other room before they answer. He knocked again, louder.

Right next to his face was a clever little mailbox made of waffle cone, full of chocolate letters. His mouth watered, he hadn’t eaten a decent meal since the night before at the engagement feast, and they’d been hiking since their escape. He listened for a moment and heard nothing from inside.

Hansel reached into the mailbox and took one of the letters. It said “100% OFF at the Lentil Showroom!!!*” It was addressed to Baba Y. Ghanoush, a name that didn’t ring any alarm bells. “It’s junkmail, right?” he mused. Grendel was counting his fingers and getting confused at four. His fever was worsening.

Hansel took his stolen mail a few feet away, out of the possible circle of Grendel crashing to the ground, and took a large bite from a corner.

“BLECH!” he bleched, spitting the chunk of brown paste on the ground. “That tastes like sadness!” He peered suspiciously at the rest of it. It looked like chocolate, but it was some kind of sweetened dust of self-hatred stuck together with tears. “Grendel! What is this stuff?” He moved to cram the offensive item back in the mailbox.

“It’s my MAIL,” shrilled a voice behind them. “You can’t just take a bite and then put it back! I should call the Postmaster.”

Hansel and Grendel whirled to confront the source of the voice, one more successfully than the other. Grendel fell backwards into the wall, cracking the gingerbread and shattering one of the window panes with his elbow. It didn’t sound like glass, more of a “croomph,” and the bits stuck to his sweaty fur.

“Oh, great! Now you’ve broken my house. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t just call the police and be done with this right now.” The authority enthusiast was a witch. She was about Hansel’s height, dressed all in dark brown, rough cloth and a pointed witch hat, in case her giant, warty nose and green skin weren’t clue enough. She was carrying a basket with some kind of evil potion kit in it, all pointy twigs and foliage.

“Sorry, I was really hungry. We escaped from the gnomes this morning and I haven’t eaten much since last night. Plus, my friend is hurt. His toe has a bullet in it.”

“I ate since last night,” Grendel mumbled and Hansel shushed him. No reason to let that particular cat out of the bag when they needed help.

“Well, eating my mail is a bad choice, but I suppose I can overlook it this once. Carob does grow on trees, after all.” She put her basket on the porch and bustled over to the fallen monster.

“Is that what that is? Carob? I thought it was chocolate.” Hansel was still wishing he could get the taste out of his mouth.

“Yes, it’s a vegan carob bar.” The witch stopped staring at Grendel’s big, swollen toe and straightened. “Everything here is vegan,” she said proudly, gesturing toward the house and grounds. “I haven’t eaten anyone…er…anything with eyes for twenty years.”

“I ate something with eyes just a few h—”

“Grendel,” Hansel hissed. The monster was volunteering too much of his personal truth. “My name is Hansel, and the big monster who needs to be QUIET is Grendel. Can you help him?”

“Oh, I think so. You just leave it to Baba G. Let’s get his foot inside where I can see.”

She opened the cookie door and bustled her basket inside. Hansel hesitated.

“Come on, little one,” she called. “Nothing to worry about from the vegan witch!”

That seemed like exactly the thing someone to worry about would say.

“Where’s GnaGna? I need to give this flower to her,” Grendel whined, holding out a stick with a leaf impaled on it. Hansel squared his shoulders and relied on the kindness of strange witches.