Well, What Did You Expect, She’s a Witch
Baba G, as she insisted on being called, was serious about getting the just the foot inside. The inside of her gingerbread house was crammed full of assorted vegetable matter and things that looked like candy but probably weren’t. The dining table, a bed, and a set of comfortable chairs next to the fireplace were all made from hard orange sticks that looked like cheap manufactured wood and smelled a little like peanuts.
Hansel helped Grendel maneuver his leg inside the front door to about mid-calf. The rest of hairy guy rested flat on the ground outside, looking up at the dark sky and stars and mumbling nonsense.
“I’m going to have to dig the bullet out,” she said to Hansel, “and it’s going to hurt. I’m giving him some sorghum to chew, and it’ll glue his mouth shut for a while, but you’ll have to hold his leg still.”
“I’m not sure I can do that? He’s way stronger than me.”
Baba G grabbed Hansel’s bicep through his hoody and squeezed appraisingly. “Oh, yes, I see. You don’t have a lot of meat on your bones, do you?” Hansel stared as she licked her lips and continued to knead his arm. He yanked his arm back and she flinched, spell broken. “Well, I’ll give him some of my holiday kombucha and that’ll give you an advantage.”
The drink she gave Grendel smelled strong and sour, and he was singing sea shanties about panties after a pitcher and a half. No doubt the fever was helping his altered state along.
“Thought you didn’t like singing?” Hansel prodded, thinking of Gretel.
“I don’t like other people shinging,” Grendel slurred. “My shinging is the besht! Doo dodooo…” The sticky substance the witch stuffed in his fangs mercifully reduced the slurred recital of every inappropriate song from the last thousand years to some dirty humming.
Hansel didn’t have as much trouble holding the foot still as he’d expected, because Grendel passed out right before the knives came out. Loud snoring rattled the candy windows of the house.
The knives were impressive. Baba G unfurled her collection of wickedly sharp blades in a canvas knife roll. Not one of them was for show. All the blades showed signs of wear, with handles stained dark and worn to fit her hand. She brushed her fingers lovingly over the cloth, caressing the curve of a thin fillet knife, tapping the thick spine of a cleaver three times.
Hansel felt a flush of…something. Clearly the witch had an intimate relationship with these knives, and he wasn’t sure if he was embarrassed to be watching her private moment or frightened her private moment so potentially stabby and slicey.
“Baba G?” he asked.
She jumped again, returning to the present. Without another word, she deftly removed a six-inch butcher knife and plunged it into the gingerbread floor next to Grendel’s foot.
“I don’t think I’ll need that, but it’s my favorite,” she explained. A much smaller knife like a scalpel was used to lance the infection and carefully enlarge the bullet hole. She pulled the tiny bullet out with tweezers and held it up to the light. “So impersonal, bullets,” she mused. Grendel snorted and twitched during the operation but didn’t wake. She washed the wound with water and packed it full of herbs and garlic before bandaging it.
Hansel helped her get some weird-smelling tea down the monster’s throat before washing up. Grendel smelled like a pot roast dipped in stale beer and used dog bathwater. They pushed his foot outside and arranged him as comfortably as they could.
“Come on inside, Hansel,” said Baba G. “You must be starving.”
He was, and he went. Baba G bustled around, clattering bowls and plates as if the show of making the food was the point of making the food. Hansel’s stomach growled.
“Oh good, a hungry child eats more,” Baba G said, as she put a large platter of food in front of Hansel, with a plate and silverware. There were turkey sandwiches, some kind of bean dip and chips, cookies, and several kinds of fruit. Hansel filled up his plate, eager to make up for the day’s lost meals. Baba G looked on approvingly.
The bread was a little full of nuts and seeds for his taste, but it was the turkey that really made him gag. It was squishy and tasted like nothing, which was worse than tasting like almost anything. The witch was smiling broadly at him, stained, crooked teeth gleaming in her green face.
“What is that?” Hansel blurted once he’d managed to swallow the bite of sandwich.
“Vegan tofurkey on vegan bread with vegan cauliflower cheese!” Baba G cackled. “It’s all completely animal-free. You’ll get used to it. You are what you eat, you know. You’re probably some kind of chicken nugget right now, but we’ll fix that.”
“Jerky,” Hansel mumbled, surveying his plate with disappointment. “I’m jerky.” He bit a small chunk from a chocolate chip cookie, realizing too late it was another carob crime against humanity. After the day he’d had, he nearly cried.
The witch clutched her metaphorical pearls. “Jerky?!? Don’t you worry, everything you can eat here is healthy and morally superior. Just do what Baba G tells you, and you’ll be lean and clean before you know it.”
“If it’s okay with you, Baba G, I think maybe I’ll go get something to eat out of the pack,” Hansel tried. He’d learned a lot about standing up for himself in the last few days, mostly that he should do it.
The witch cackled unappealingly. “Go ahead, then,” she said, gesturing to the door. Hansel suspected it wasn’t that easy, but he walked to the door and tried the cinnamon knob. It burned his hand like a hot stove.
“What the heck?!?” he yelled. “Am I a prisoner now?” He cradled his throbbing hand in his hoody pocket against the cool can of beans.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t say that exactly, you’re a guest,” the witch mused. “Welcome to the Hotel Caulifloria!” She grinned wickedly. “You’re a vegan now, and you can never leave.”