This Is No Way to Fatten Up a Child

Hansel went to sleep on the floor of the gingerbread house. He’d meant to stay up and try to sneak out, but the little food he’d managed to choke down and the exhaustion of the long day kicked his butt. When he woke in the morning, Grendel was still snoring outside anyway, and he realized he probably wouldn’t have been able to rouse the drunken monster.

Baba G was pouring very hot water in a very large cauldron. It smelled a little like soup, and Hansel’s stomach rumbled.

“Good, you’re awake. Just in time, too, it’s important to get you in the pot at the right temperature.”

Hansel bolted for the door, which was also bolted. The last he checked, boys weren’t vegan, but this whole gingerbread construction was a house of lies. The candy sucked, the food sucked, and now he was on the menu.

“Oh, come here, it’s not like a bath will kill you,” Baba G grumbled.

“A bath?” Hansel wasn’t excited about that either, considering the lack of privacy, but it was better than being soup. “I’m good, thanks anyway.”

“No, you’re not,” the witch said. “You smell like someone stuffed a dirty locker with spoiled cheese. If you’re going to be staying here and eating clean, your body needs to be clean, too.”

Hansel took a quick whiff of an armpit and had to admit she was right. “Well, can you leave? I’m not taking a bath in front of a stranger. I need to go to the bathroom, too.”

“Nothing I haven’t seen before, but have it your way. Put those dirty clothes next to the door and I’ll wash them. You can wear the clothes on the chair. The bathroom’s behind that curtain. There’s food, too.” She murmured some words at the doorknob, which dutifully unlocked, and left him alone.

The “food” was a bowl of oats with no milk or butter, so Hansel loaded it up with brownish, sweetish crystals until it made his teeth hurt. At least it was recognizable. He didn’t think vegan food had to be this bad, but he wasn’t an expert. He undressed and hid his can of beans under the bed. The little bits of pork gristle on the label were starting to look mighty tasty. His mouth watered. “For emergencies only,” he whispered and shoved them further in.

As he soaked in the tub, which in truth did feel very good, there was a commotion outside.

“DRINK THIS,” the witch screeched.

“Okay, okay, I’ll drink it, yeesh, whass your problem.” Grendel was still drunk. Maybe he was into wine o’clock after all. “I jusht wanna see Hanshel.”

“You can see Hansel when you start behaving. There, there, that’s good. Drink it all up.”

There was a pause of about a minute.

THUD.

The snoring started back up. Grendel was out. Any hope of rescue from the monster was futile if he continued to drink the witch’s brews.

Hansel dried off, feeling better, and looked at the clothes on the chair. Dusty green lederhosen and a white shirt with half a dozen mended tears on the chest, each about one inch long. Hansel felt the special resignation you had for predictable conventions you might need but didn’t want.

He pounded on the door and yelled that he was done, and Baba G collected his clothes and locked the door behind her. He had a glimpse of Grendel through the brief opening, passed out and drooling a few feet away.

He was still hungry. He licked a chair, getting a hint of peanut butter and sawdust. “Candy, my butt,” he groused. He lay back down and dozed off until the witch clapped her hands in front of his face, startling his raw nerves into instant wakefulness.

“Lunch!” she cackled. “I have a special treat for you, come, come.”

Hansel slowed his ragged breathing and went to the table. Miraculously, there was a board laid out with all kinds of cheeses and meats, crackers, and breads to put them on, too.

“Wow, that looks great,” he said, and meant it.

“…and then a cat shot me in the toe, Mommy, but I showed that farsty feline, I ate him all up…snnnnnnzzzz,” Grendel bellowed in his stupor.

Baba G was looking expectantly at Hansel. He sat down, loading a cracker up with salami and cheese, and shoved the whole thing in his mouth.

Two things happened. One—the witch’s eyes lit up in delight, which meant they emitted a creepy green glow. Two—Hansel’s mouth did not light up in delight. His mouth briefly evaluated the situation and, finding both the texture and the taste of the morsel unexpected and reminiscent of slugs and mildew, spat the whole shebang back onto the table.

The light in Baba G’s eyes died.

“What IS that? It’s awful!” he exclaimed, trying to push the unpalatable ghost of it out of his mouth with his tongue.

“My fauxcuterie board, which you clearly aren’t mature enough to appreciate,” she hissed. She whirled around, grabbing a knife from the kitchen counter.

“Wait, I’ll eat it, okay?” Hansel said, pasting on a big smile and stuffing a cracker in it.

Baba G rolled her eyes at him and used the knife to cut a hunk of the bummer sausage to pop into her own mouth, making “mmm mmm mmm” noises. “I’m not going to stab you multiple times in the chest, boy, relax.” Hansel had a sudden epiphany about the borrowed shirt he’d been comfortably ignorant about a few seconds before. “Sit. Eat.” It was an invitation he couldn’t refuse.

“On the lonely, white cliffs of Dorset, I will sit alone and think about your corset!” sang the kombucha-fuzzled monster. Hansel wished he were anywhere but in the gingerbread house of a vegan witch, wearing a murdered boy’s lederhosen, eating food made with vegetables and suspect intentions.