Hansel and Gretel: The Teenage Years
by J. M. Vogel
The harvest moon was looming high in the black sky while a cold, fall breeze was rustling the bare trees’ finger-like branches. A quick look at Matt’s watch told us that, if we didn’t hurry, we’d be late for curfew. We thought a short-cut through the woods would save us a little time. We were very wrong.
“Where are we?” Matt asked thirty minutes into what should have been a twenty-minute trip between the house party and home. We knew these woods like the backs of our hands. On a normal day, a quick cut through the forest would have saved us fifteen minutes on our trek home. Tonight, however, things were different. Nothing looked quite the same.
I surveyed our immediate vicinity. “Not a clue. Wait, did you hear that?”
Matt’s head swiveled, surveying our surroundings. “Yeah, I did. I think we’re being watched.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something plunge from the sky and whiz past my head. I dove to the ground only to look up and see a cloud of bats fluttering wildly above me. After the horde dispersed, I arose from the mud and leaves, dusting dirt from my tights. “How is it possible that we don’t know where we are?”
Matt shrugged. “I don’t know. We must have taken a wrong turn. We’re going to be in so much trouble when we get home.”
That was an understatement.
Between a few recent accidental curfew violations and a teensy little brush with the law, our folks were less than thrilled with us. It didn’t matter to them that all of these incidents stemmed from situations that were beyond our control. We had heard the phrases “third strike” and “military school” frequently in recent weeks.
Finding out that we missed curfew because of a trip through the desolate woods after an unsupervised kegger could do far more than get us in trouble. We could find ourselves with a brand-new home address.
I spun around, trying to see something I recognized. While I didn’t want to face Mom, I really didn’t want to be in these woods anymore. My skin crawled as my mind began to consider what all could be lurking in the shadows. I gasped as the ominous hoot of a nearby owl echoed around us from what seemed like every direction.
Matt grabbed my arm and pointed. “I think I see a house light up ahead.” I squinted into the distance and sighed in relief. After a vow to never return to these woods again, we forged ahead, running from the darkness.
“Okay, where the hell are we now?” Matt asked as we stood on the edge of a small clearing. In front of us stood a tiny log cabin. “I’ve never seen this place before.”
I hadn’t either. Despite running through this forest for the better part of our childhood, we had somehow never managed to stumble upon this spot. “Now what?”
“Well, we’ll be in less trouble if we call Mom and tell her we’re lost. Maybe we could use their phone.”
I shook my head. “It’s really late, Matt. Whoever lives there is probably asleep.”
“Let’s get a little closer. Maybe we’ll be able to tell if anyone’s up.”
We stalked toward the house, the fallen, crunchy leaves betraying our approach. Despite the ruckus, no signs of life came from inside the tiny cottage.
“Maybe we should just turn back,” I said, gesturing toward the woods.
“Just wait, will you?” Matt continued his approach but stopped abruptly before reaching the home. “Meredith, come here,” he called in a hushed tone.
He motioned toward the house. I stepped up beside him. “What?” I didn’t notice anything... at first.
“Don’t you see? The roses?”
I took a step closer and shrugged. “What about them?”
“They look like they belong on a cake!” he exclaimed.
I edged even closer. The more I looked at them, the more they did indeed look like cake decorations. “They couldn’t be made of icing, could they?”
Matt stepped up to the house and snatched one of the flowers from the trellis. “Well, they look like icing. And they feel like icing,” he stopped and licked the rose. “Holy crap, this is the best frosting I think I’ve ever tasted!”
He pulled another rose from its vine and handed it to me. I eyed it suspiciously. I looked to Matt for reassurance, but he was way too busy devouring the flower to even notice me. He again reached toward the bush, plucking yet another bloom from its stem. Without hesitation, he shoved it in his mouth and began chewing it with the excitement of someone enjoying the most decadent treat he’d ever tasted.
I followed suit and quickly came to the conclusion that every other sugary treat from here on out would pale in comparison... until we saw the candy flowers at the mailbox.
“Who lives here? A candy-maker?” Matt asked around a mouthful of pulled-sugar clematis.
“I don’t think so. Did you notice the name on the box?” I asked.
Matt leaned forward and gasped, which of course caused him to choke. “Witchley? Do you suppose a real witch lives here?” he sputtered, still trying to catch his breath.
As if on cue, the front door opened. “You kids there, what are you doing?” a high-pitched, gravelly voice called.
Matt and I tensed, trying to decide what to do.
“Are you lost?” she asked, hobbling toward us. A cane supported her as she inched down the steps of her porch. Her eyes widened as she took in the two of us.
I wiped at my mouth subconsciously, trying scrub away any purple sugar that might give us away. She probably wouldn’t have been quite so nice if she realized we’d been devouring her candy flowers.
“Can we use your phone, ma’am?” Matt asked, his hands behind his back. “We’re late for curfew.”
“Of course!” she said with a little too much enthusiasm. “Right this way, please.”
Once she turned her back on us and started toward the house, Matt dropped his handful of confection and followed. I ran after him, not wanting to be alone with the bats, owls and other creepy nocturnal animals anymore.
The inside of the home was as strange as the outside.
While it didn’t have edible adornments, the interior looked like it could have come straight from a fairy tale. The tiny house sported wood from floor to ceiling, complete with tresses. Directly in front of us stood the largest fireplace I’d ever seen, surrounded by a stone hearth and chimney. A large black pot hung above the fire, steam rising from it. The old woman motioned to a carved bench. “Have a seat and I’ll get you something to drink.”
Matt nudged me as she exited the room. “Do you see that?” he said pointing at the pot. “It’s a cauldron.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
Matt nodded emphatically. “It definitely is. Meredith, this lady gives me the creeps.”
The woman walked out of the kitchen with two glasses of water and a phone perched atop a serving tray.
“I must have left it off the charger,” she said, handing us the glasses. “Let me hang it up for a few minutes. Then you can call your folks.”
Matt took a sip of the water. “If you can just point us toward Woodcutter Lane, we’ll be on our way,” Matt said, standing. “We don’t need the phone.”
The woman pushed her hand against his chest and shoved him back down onto the bench. “Poppycock. You’ll stay here until we can call your parents. In the meantime, I’ll grab a snack. The two of you aren’t looking so good.”
When she was again out of sight, Matt grabbed my arm. “We have to get out of here. Now. Something isn’t right.” Suddenly Matt’s grip tightened on my arm. I tried to shake free, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Matthew,” I grunted, trying to pull my arm away from his iron grip. It wasn’t until I really looked at him that I noticed it: he was ghost-white and sweating profusely. “Are you all right?” I shrieked.
He shook his head. “Poison,” he whispered, dropping the cup to the floor.
“Oh my,” the old woman gasped from my side.
I jumped. For someone using a cane and limping, she moved a little too quietly. “To the bathroom with you,” she prompted, pushing him towards a room so small it might as well have been a cupboard.
Matt ran into the bathroom, his hand covering his mouth. Seconds later, heaves echoed from behind the closed door. My eyes met those of the old woman and I saw just what Matt meant: there was evil in those eyes.
It suddenly dawned on me just how much trouble we were in. No one knew where we were, and this woman had some sick plan in her head. A plan that included poisoning my brother. My heart broke into a sprint as I realized the implications. We could die here tonight.
I resolved right then and there that we would get out of this. No matter what I had to do, Matt and I were leaving here and soon. I sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. What in the world should I do? I wanted nothing more than to charge into the bathroom, grab Matthew and storm out of here, but if she was truly a witch, we’d never make it even as far as the door. And what good was I to Matt if she smote me or cursed me or whatever witches did? I had to keep my wits about me.
“So, I thought you were bringing us a snack,” I said.
Her eyes narrowed. “I was going to give you some crackers, but I’m out. I thought we could have a little soup,” she motioned to the pot in the fire. “It should be just about done. I was going to save it for tomorrow, but it smelled so good, I just couldn’t wait.”
I looked toward the hearth, and for the first time, noticed bones stacked to the side. I gulped. “Do you cook soup often?”
She shrugged. “Not as often as I like. Soup bones are so expensive in the store. I usually have to wait until some bones fall in my lap.” She sized me up and down in a very creepy manner.
I swallowed deeply and listened for Matt. He was still retching in the other room. If he was indeed poisoned, I couldn’t wait on an opportunity to present itself, I’d have to make my own diversion. “Soup sounds great. What kind is it?”
“It’s my own version of Stone Soup. I have a few secret ingredients I add.” She hobbled toward the pot and I followed closely behind, waiting for my opportunity. “It’s not often I have guests for a midnight snack,” she said, stirring the pot. “It’s nice to share. Tomorrow, you’ll be gone and I’ll be eating alone again,” she sighed.
I hoped I was misunderstanding her, but feared I was not. Did she mean that by tomorrow, we’d be her midnight snack? I heard Matt yell out in the bathroom and I knew he needed help.
I did the only thing I could do to ensure we got away from the old woman: I pushed her. She sailed into the fireplace, a blood-curdling scream sounding from her lips.
Seconds later, the front door splintered as two uniformed police officers charged into the room with two medics right behind them.
“Oh, thank God you’re here,” I sighed. “My brother’s in the bathroom. He’s been poisoned.”
One medic ran into the bathroom, while the other ran to the old woman. He rolled her on the floor extinguishing the flames. Once I saw Matt emerge from the bathroom under his own strength, I must have passed out. I’d just been through too much. My mind just couldn’t handle anymore.
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Copyright © 2016 by J. M. Vogel