Put a Pork in Him, He’s Done
The next two days were a terrible parade of unfamiliar foods in disguises and lectures on the wholesomeness of it all. Some of the things might have been okay if they hadn’t oversold themselves, or just been presented as they were. If you expected chocolate pudding, and got something made of avocados and carob powder, the only possible result was disappointment. Hansel was chronically hungry and grouchy, and spent most of the day in the bathroom.
Grendel was having a great time from the sound of it. Baba G was happy with how the wound was healing, but insisted the monster wouldn’t be walking on it for a few more days, and then hinted he could “be on his way.”
“You mean ‘we’ can be on our way?” Hansel pushed. He hadn’t been allowed outside, he hadn’t been allowed to change back into his clean hoody and jeans, and his shoes were missing.
“Well, no. You’re not done with your transformation yet,” the witch demurred.
“I don’t want a transformation. I want to leave.” Baba G acted like she hadn’t heard him. She did that a lot.
Hansel was getting desperate. He’d broken chunks off most of the things in the house that were supposedly edible. It was like a trip to the old-fashioned candy store. There was a lot of sugar around him, but all of it was flavored with roots and twigs and despair. It was Halloween in Hell.
Finally, Baba G announced she needed to go to town for avocados and ghee. If Hansel hadn’t been so irritable, he might have asked how close the town was.
The minute he heard the door lock behind her, he dove for the can under the bed. It was the pinnacle of pork and bean achievement, the ambrosia of large factory foods, the cheap and cheerful answer to his million-dollar hunger.
He found a pot and lit the stove. The beans were pop-top, and he sniffed them before dumping them out. The generous amounts of artificial additives and preservatives had done their jobs well, they smelled fine. He nearly cried. He fished the little bullet out and rinsed it off. It was slightly misshapen, metal scratched by the can. He stuck it in his lederhosen pocket.
While the beans heated, he tried to get through to Grendel again. The monster had been out of it or asleep most of the time. Once, he woke up enough to wander off and come back with a half-eaten fish in his hand. Baba G increased his dosing schedule, and he hadn’t been fully awake for an entire day.
“Grendel!” Hansel yelled, pounding on the inside of the door.
“Mmmmmphmmm,” Grendel returned.
“Grendel! You gotta wake up! We need to get out of here!”
“GRENDEL!” Hansel could smell his beans, and this was a waste of time. Maybe the beans would give him the strength to escape. He put his hoody and jeans over the lederhosen and searched for his shoes, finding them on a high shelf behind some bran biscuits.
He ate the beans too hot and burnt his mouth, but he didn’t care. The mushy beans and chewy little bits of pork offcuts were the finest filet, the most delectable meal he’d ever had. Every bite was a sodium-laden delight. He savored each magical bean. His stomach relaxed, basking in the familiar textures and chemicals of highly processed food.
He shouldn’t have enjoyed each bean individually, it turned out. It took too long. He was scraping the last few out of the bottom of the pot when Baba G opened the door. He froze, three contraband beans inches from his open mouth, while the witch raised her hooked nose and sniffed loudly.
“Is that…PORK AND BEANS?” she shrilled. Her eyes shone like lasers.
“No.” Hansel quickly hid the pot and spoon behind his back. “I heated up some of that delicious soup from last night,” he lied.
“YOU. DID. NOT.” The witch twitched her nose like a bunny and scowled. “That soup was made of beets and skunk cabbage. This is something else.” She seemed reluctant to come closer.
The door was open. Baba G was having some internal conflict about the meat smell. Hansel seized the moment. He pulled the pan from behind him and thrust it toward the witch. As he’d hoped, she shrank back from the the saucy remains of his restoration.
“There’s pork juice in here! Stay back or I’ll get it on you!”
The witch hissed like a cat, green eyes glaring in the dim room. Hansel brandished his three-bean spoon, and she didn’t advance. She clawed at the air.
“That’s right, I have preservatives. You better not get any closer.” He inched toward the open door, circling around the witch with the smeared pan between them.
“You ungrateful brat! You were going to be the star of Thanksgiving!” snarled the witch. That gave Hansel pause. He was tired, so very tired, of the layers of meaning of everything Baba Y. Ghanoush said, it was like a lasagna of implied threats. He stopped in the doorway.
“What do you mean, the star of Thanksgiving?” he asked.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It matters to me. Tell me what you mean or I’ll splatter this sodium benzoate all over you!”
“Fine, you asked. Once a year, I let myself have a nice roast, but I make sure it eats properly first. You are what you eat, so if you eat vegan, you’re vegan, which kind of means I’m still eating vegan, see?”
“Oh my god. No, that’s not how it works.” Hansel felt cold. She’d been planning to eat him all along. All the vegan stuff was just cold ranch dressing hiding the bitter broccoli of murder.
“Well, what do you know, you’re nine. Now prepare for a week of juice cleanses!” she shrieked.
Baba G muttered something in a weird language and the door swung toward Hansel, closing off his escape route.
Or…it would have, if a large, hairy hand hadn’t torn it off the hinges at the last second.