Tag Archives: Fairy Tales

Free Fiction Friday: Gretel and Hansel

January’s stories will be a mix of sibling love, surprising friendships, and cautionary tales of workplace romances. I hope you enjoy them!

We kick off the (Love) Stories of 2020 project with this fairytale retelling. If you were ever curious about what happened to Hansel and Gretel after they returned home, this might answer that question.

Hansel wanted to go back.

Even after endless weeks in a cage, even after Gretel scrubbed and swept and scoured for the witch, even after she pushed the frog-skinned crone into the oven, Hansel wanted to go back.

They stood at the edge of the forest, where the grass grew wild and sharp; brambles grabbed at their skin. The trees above reached their branches toward the ground as if they might scoop the two up and carry them away.

“She’s dead,” Gretel said to him.

Hansel stared into the woods.

“I killed her.”

He shook his head, the movement so slow that at first, Gretel didn’t take its meaning.

“You didn’t kill her,” he said, his words as dead as the witch should’ve been. “She’s alive.”

Could she be? Gretel stretched her hands in front of her, palms skyward.

These hands. They’d shoved from behind. They’d murdered. The crunch of bones, the sizzle of hair and flesh. The thick smoke that had filled her mouth and throat, the plumes laced with the stench of rancid meat.

No one could live through that. No one, perhaps, except a witch.

“Why do you want to go back?” she asked.

A smile lit his face, the same sort of look she’d seen their father cast toward their stepmother, the same look Millie gathered from men in the tavern. True, some men reserved that gaze for the pint of ale they held in their grip. When Hansel licked his lips, Gretel hoped he wouldn’t answer.

He didn’t.

Every year, on the anniversary of their escape, Gretel would find Hansel at the edge of the forest. She’d stand with him while the sun dipped below the horizon, the slanting light flickering against the trees. The branches appeared to elongate as if beckoning them to step inside the wood.

Every year, she took his hand—a limp, clammy thing—and tugged him from the edge. With each step, her legs ached. Only the feel of Hansel’s hand in hers kept her steady on the path home.

But maybe she was wrong. Hansel lived as if his heart, his soul, still resided deep in the woods, in a gingerbread house. She’d catch him licking his lips, and she knew. She’d tasted the sugar too. It had left them both empty—she without her brother, he without his heart’s desire.

The year they turned sixteen, Gretel climbed the path to the woods only to find Hansel’s spot empty. Pulse fluttering in her throat, she bent low. Her fingers skimmed the dust trail. In the dim light, she barely made out a boot print. It was enough to go on.

Gretel scampered down the path, grabbed her cloak from the hook inside the cottage door, and raced back up the hill. Before she could catch her breath, before she could gather enough courage to venture into the woods, a hand gripped her wrist.

“Stay back, girl. Don’t go after him.”

The voice was lilting, filled with sorrow and knowledge. Not her father, then. Gretel turned to confront Millie from the tavern.

“I have to,” Gretel said. “He’s my brother.”

“He hasn’t been yours for a very long time.” Millie tugged on her wrist, a gentle, coaxing move that had Gretel stumbling forward. “It’s too late. Once the witch has you, she doesn’t let go.”

“Yes, she does.” She wrenched her wrist from Millie’s grip and held up her hands for the woman to see. “I did it once. I can do it again.”

Gretel pulled her cloak tightly around her and plunged into the forest.

Brambles wielded their thorns like daggers, their sharp points shredding her cloak. Branches grabbed at her hood. Eventually one plucked it from her head, the force choking her until she undid the drawstring.

On she ran until the woods opened onto a stream. The stream led to the gingerbread house. Gretel halted, letting the fringe of trees around the clearing conceal her.

The path to the house was covered with brittle, the air perfumed with spun sugar and melted chocolate. Even from this distance, desire churned in Gretel’s belly. Yes, she’d tasted the sugar. Yes, she’d thought of returning. But after that unbearable sweetness, the cream curdled in her mouth, the sugar scorched her tongue. She’d purged, not far from here, next to the stream while Hansel had continued to consume the treats as if they were the only thing that could sustain him.

The witch stood in the entryway to her house, but this was not the frog-skinned crone of Gretel’s memory. The witch glowed like spring itself, her skin the color of a pale crocus stem, her hair flowing, as white as lily of the valley and as soft as spun sugar.

Hansel lounged against the rail, a candied apple in his hands, the fruit so big and bright it glowed in the night. The witch curved a finger beneath his chin, and with no more than that, urged him inside.

Gretel threw herself forward, but the rock-sugar fence that surrounded the house barred her way, new segments sprouting across her path. She flung herself against the fence, again and again until her palms stung. She watched the blood, black in the moonlight, drip between her fingers and onto the ground.

“I’ve failed him,” she said, to the forest, for every creature to witness.

“Whoo?” came the soft call of an owl.

“Me. I have failed my brother.” Gretel studied her bloodstained hands. Certainly, this was proof of that.

“Whoo.” The call came again, a lullaby rather than an admonishment.

One by one, feathers dropped from the night sky, floating downward until they landed on Gretel’s palms. Each feather soaked up its share of blood before disintegrating. When a lone feather landed against her cheek, she sank to the forest floor and fell asleep.

The blaze woke her hours later, the gingerbread house lit with flames. The odor of burnt sugar and charred sweets filled her nose, her mouth, her throat, the stench so caustic it felt as if a noose had tightened around her neck.

“Hansel?” She called his name, again and again, her cries too thin to cut through the thick smoke that billowed from the house. “Hansel?”

Near dawn, the fire burned itself out, the rock-sugar fence a slag that oozed its way through twigs and leaves. Only the witch’s oven remained, squat and low to the ground. It was from here a figure emerged, movements tentative as a newborn calf.

Gretel leaped across the slag and ran to her brother.

Hansel took her by the shoulders, his fingers thin and tight. “I had to go back. I had to be the one to kill her.” He shook her as if that would help her understand. “Me, not you.”

His blond hair had turned ashen. If she brushed it from his eyes, Gretel thought it might crumble to dust against her fingertips. He reeked of burnt sugar and acrid smoke, but when she turned his palms skyward, they were clean and pink, like a child’s hands.

She took him by one of those hands and led him to the path that would take them home.

Gretel and Hansel first appeared in the August 2016 issue of Deep Magic.

If you enjoy fairytale retellings, you might like Straying from the Path.

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Free Fiction Friday: The Hundredth House Had No Walls by Laurie Penny

Illustrated by Kuri Huang

This wonderful gem is a fantastic way to get your weekend started.

Do yourself a favor and read The Hundredth House Had No Walls by Laurie Penny over at Tor.com.

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Weekly writing check-in: the Amazon bait and switch

So, I discovered that the US Amazon store was selling the print version of The Complete Coffee and Ghosts for $6.88.

Usually, it’s $24.99.

I know. Totally insane. The price stayed like that for a few days, so this morning I took a chance and alerted my newsletter subscribers to the deal.

You know what happens next, right?

Amazon jacked the price back up to $24.99. Because, of course, they did.

No doubt people clicking through from the email triggered some algorithm or other. Even I missed picking up a couple of copies. I was going to grab some for a giveaway or little free libraries.

But all is not lost. The Kindle version is still on sale for $6.88. It’s not the fire sale of earlier, but it’s not bad.

In less frustrating news, I submitted a story this week, played around with some time travel ideas (story ideas, not actual time travel), and of course, saw The Way Home published over at Long and Short Reviews.

So, minus the Amazon debacle, not a bad week.

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Short Story Saturday: The Way Home (a Rapunzel retelling)

So, no Free Fiction Friday yesterday, but I give you: Short Story Saturday.

Head on over to Long and Short Reviews for one of my retellings of Rapunzel: The Way Home.

While you’re visiting, be sure to check out the other Saturday stories. Read a few reviews or enter a giveaway–they have a lot going on over there.

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Free Fiction Friday: Once Upon a Time

Like retellings, adaptations, and original fairy tales? Then you’ll want to check out this giveaway. So many great books, so many amazing covers.

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(Almost) Free Fiction Friday: Frozen Fairy Tales

Winter is not coming. Winter is here.

As unique and beautifully formed as a snowflake, each of these fifteen stories spins a brand new tale or offers a fresh take on an old favorite like Jack Frost, The Snow Queen, or The Frog King.

From a drafty castle to a blustery Japanese village, from a snow-packed road to the cozy hearth of a farmhouse, from an empty coffee house in Buffalo, New York, to a cold night outside a university library, these stories fully explore the perils and possibilities of the snow, wind, ice, and bone-chilling cold that traditional fairy tale characters seldom encounter.

In the bleak midwinter, heed the irresistible call of fairy tales. Just open these pages, snuggle down, and wait for an icy blast of fantasy to carry you away.

With all new stories of love, adventure, sorrow, and triumph by Tina Anton, Amanda Bergloff, Gavin Bradley, L.A. Christensen, Steven Grimm, Christina Ruth Johnson, Rowan Lindstrom, Alison McBain, Aimee Ogden, J. Patrick Pazdziora, Lissa Marie Redmond, Anna Salonen, Lissa Sloan, Charity Tahmaseb, and David Turnbull to help you dream through the cold days and nights of this most dreaded season.

On sale until January 25th! This anthology includes my story Simon the Cold, which I wrote during one of the coldest winters ever. It seems fitting that it found a home in this anthology.

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Free Fiction Friday: A Most Marvelous Pair of Boots

This week, I’m offering up a retelling of Puss in Boots. A Most Marvelous Pair of Boots was first published in Issue #1 of Timeless Tales Magazine.

It starts something like this:

It was during the wedding feast, when the air was heavy with roast goose and red wine, that Mirabella realized they’d all been duped by a cat.

Her new husband, the Marquis of Carabas, was sitting to her right, his teeth tearing goose flesh, grease coating his lips. She shuddered and pushed away thoughts of the marriage bed. Her father, the king, was well into his cups and tore at his food as if to mimic his new son-in-law. He slapped the marquis on the back and praised heaven that—at long last—Mirabella had found herself a husband.

At long last, indeed.

Read the rest here. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, be sure to check out the other stories at Timeless Tales.

If you enjoyed this little tale of mine, you might like my other retellings, collected in Straying from the Path.

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