Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Eligibility Post 2018

My eligible works first published in 2018 are:

Short stories:

Poems:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Giftmas 2018: Hans & Gretel

Welcome, Reader, the the 2018 Advent Calendar, aka the Great Giftmas Calendar! In case you missed yesterday's story, go here. Before We get to the story, remember that this is to raise money for the Edmonton Food Bank, and every donation is appreciated. This year, we want to raise $750 which translates to 2,250 meals, so believe me when I say even a dollar helps. You can also win things! So really, just make a small donation, I'll wait.

Done? Okay, good, then let's get started with the story. I hope you like black humor. :}



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Hans & Gretel

By Alexandra Seidel

The kitchen knives had gotten dull since the midsummer feast, and Hans ran their edges over the whetstone with diligent precision. Outside, it was snowing again.

Hans, eyes fixed on his work, had the distinct feeling that this Christmas would be special. It might have been a wish more than a feeling, but no matter; the gingerbread house tasted especially good this year, and that always meant something special was about to come along.

He looked over to his sister Gretel, who was just heating up the oven.

“You have your daydreaming face on again, haven't you?" she asked without turning to look at him. Her golden hair caught the twinkle of the fire and for a moment it shone almost red.

“So what if I do?" Hans said.

“Come now, Hänsel; I don't need you around spinning daydreams while handling the kitchen knives. Why don't you walk it off? The woods are big, and chances are that you will find us something delectable to eat. I mean, It's Christmas tomorrow and apart from the gingerbread and those skinny rabbits I snared… well, I just think it would be nice to have a decent meal for Christmas Day, don't you?"

Hänsel. Nobody ever called him that these days except his sister.

Gretel turned her head to him and fixed him with a bottle green stare. Hans sighed. She was certainly right. It had been so many years since old grandmother Hexe went into the oven. It had been Christmas then too, and a previously unparalleled feast, if a little tough. Yes, whenever Hans thought of grandmother Hexe, he would remember how tough she was to deal with the two of them on her own. It hadn't really been a surprise that her time in the oven hadn't changed that.

“I think you're right," Hans said, staring back at his sister with eyes just as green as hers.

She tilted her head and smirked. “You want me to get the bread crumbs for you, brother?"

This made both of them laugh, loud and clear, like cawing ravens over a fresh corpse.

“No, I know my way," Hans said finally.

He left Gretel to deal with the oven and the knives and set off for a walk in the woods. The snowfall this year had been heavy and soon his legs vanished into chilly white waves up to his knees.

Hans walked around aimlessly for a while and let his thoughts drift. His breath misted in front of his eyes and the cold bit his face and stung his eyes. After a good hour of walking he saw something red brushing the corner of his vision. He turned his head and there it was again, a flash of red bobbing up and down through the snow dunes close to the common path, the path the more cautious folk used when venturing into the woods.

Hans, always a curious one, moved to check it out. As he stepped onto the snow-laden path, he recognized Little Red Riding Hood who had virtually no chance to move through the knee high snow other than hopping like an over excited red bunny. She was carrying her wicker basket with strong wine and fresh cake in it, and the bottle made a clinking sound almost as pleasant as a tumbling ornament with her every jump.

“Hello, child," Hans greeted the girl, raising one gloved hand as he did so. “Out to visit your granny?"

“Yes, sir," replied the little girl in red. The snow was covering her to the waist. Two big blue eyes looked at him intently. “Are you by any chance the wolf?"

“No, child. Why are you asking?"

“Oh, well, we were just playing dress-up, you see, and I'm afraid the wolf took one of my glass slippers… but no matter. If you aren't the wolf, I'll just head straight to granny's place. She always wants her wine, you know. And maybe I'll meet the wolf on the way. He promised to show me something."

"Show you something? Something what?"

"Just something. He wasn't very precise, I think the glass slippers were hurting his toes, but he also seemed to like them."

Hans wiped some snow off his jacket, shrugged. "You know, if you want my advice, you shouldn't play dress-up with wolves. And don't let them make you any uncertain promises either. Just get the old woman her wine."

"Oh... What's so wrong about playing dress-up with wolves, sir?"

Hans sighed. “It's the hair. You'll never get it out of your clothes again, let alone the smell."

Riding Hood nodded and was off bobbing her way to her grandmother's house. Hans shook his head. Young people! Had he ever been like this?

Hans soon left the common path as he had no reason to be cautious.

So close to Christmas, a horde of weird folk was around. There was this one person, a dwarf actually, who danced around a fire stark naked, singing: ‘Wie gut, dass niemand weiss, dass ich Rumpelstilzchen heiss!' It was not the nakedness or the very off-key voice that made Hans cringe, but the thought of how freezing cold this would make any sane person. The dwarf didn't seem to mind.

Around the next oak Hans saw a girl in her nightgown, calling at the stars to fall down on her as golden coins (it did seem a useful ability, but in Hans's mind, hypothermia was a clear drawback).

There were more dwarves, seven actually, carrying a glass coffin with a dead person in it. Hans contemplated asking them if they would sell him the body but thought better of it. There was no way of knowing how long she had been dead and such things could easily cause diarrhea.

In a snow-dressed clearing, Hans saw a couple of hobbits quarreling over a golden ring, but they seemed to be entirely in the wrong place. He ran into at least two witches, and both tried to sell him poisoned fruit, which he politely declined. Being raised by a witch in a gingerbread house himself, he knew how to spot the bad apples.

The strangest encounter of the day was perhaps the frog whom he almost stepped on in the high snow. He heard the croaking as his foot was about to squash the green amphibian, and Hans managed to change the direction of his step only by almost falling over. The frog looked rather like a toad, also very much like he was freezing to death.

"My well froze over!" The frog announced. "Will you kiss me?"

"Why would I kiss you?"

"Because my well froze over, and I cannot jump back in and have my peace and quiet down there!"

"That's no reason for kissing."

"Like you know!"

Hans grabbed the frog, then looked around to make sure there was no one there to see. "See how you like this instead of a kiss," Hans said, and flung the frog at the nearest tree. The thud was rather satisfying.

The frog stuck to the trunk for a moment, green on brown mottled with white, then fell down into the snow with another thud, one that was a bit too loud for someone the size of a frog.

"I am... myself again!" a noise came from the dune of snow the frog had vanished in, but Hans decided it was best to ignore this overly chatty well-dwelling creature and moved on.

It was almost dusk when Hans spotted them in a clearing. He knew instantly that Gretel would like them. He was sure that he did. One was a fawn and the other a rabbit. The rabbit did seem pretty much as skinny as the ones Gretel had snared, but the fawn looked fat enough to make up for that.

Hans stepped into the clearing and raised one hand in greeting. “Excuse me?"

The fawn turned towards him. “Yes?" it said with huge eyes. “How can we help you?" and after a moment, “You are not a hunter, are you? Because if you are, we won't help you at all."

Hans smiled. This was almost too easy. At least grandmother Hexe had put up a fight.

“No, I'm not a hunter. My name is Hans. Who are you two?"

The fawn bowed slightly and the rabbit's ears dropped a fraction. “I'm Bambi and this is Thumper."

“Well, nice to meet you, Bambi and Thumper. And I really am in need of your help."

“Oh, what is it?" the rabbit asked excitedly.

“Well, my poor sister is not well. She is so very feverish, and I fear this might be her last Christmas. Now, a few years ago, our parents died in an, ah, unfortunate accident. Please, will you two not pretend to be them? My dear sister is too far gone already, she will just be happy to be with our parents again and she won't notice the difference, I'm sure." After a pause he shifted his face into a wide-eyes, honest, and pain-blushed display of desperate appeal and added, “please."

Bambi had tears in his eyes already, and the rabbit seemed sympathetic enough too. “We'll help you, of course we'll help you," said Bambi.

“Yeah, right! Show us the way, Hans, and quick!" added the rabbit, one foot excitedly pounding the snow.

And that was what Hans did. When things needed doing he had never been one much for dallying. Back at the gingerbread house, Gretel would be waiting with a cozy, hot, but as of yet empty oven and a bunch of freshly sharpened knives. Gretel didn't like being kept waiting.

They reached the gingerbread house in good time. Gretel had lit only few lights, likely as not expecting him to use some ruse or other and preparing for the most common one. She was a fabulous actress when it came down to it, she was, his sister.

“We're here," said Hans.

“Oh, what a nice house," Bambi said to Thumper as Hans led them inside. "It has a pleasant smell."

As expected, Gretel was lying under a thick blanket, close to the oven. This is going to be child's play, Hans thought.

And it was. Bambi and Thumper moved to stand beside where Gretel had lain down on the couch. Hans took care that the oven was to their backs.

"Mother, Father, is it you...?" Gretel said with a faint little voice and her green eyes flickering like a dying flame.

"We are here," the fawn said.

"Yes, we are here, everything's fine," the rabbit added.

Meanwhile, Hans opened the oven. When he winked at his sister, she jumped up from beneath her covers, lithe as a panther in a moonless night, and shoved both the rabbit and the fawn over to the oven. She was so fast that there was just a small yelp from the fawn and a tiny squeak from the rabbit, but nothing more.

Hans didn't look it, but all the gingerbread had made him quite strong and he had no trouble gripping the fawn by the neck and the rabbit by the ears and tossing them into the oven one after the other. Gretel stood there for a moment, smiling. The hot, hot fire washed over her hair and for a moment it looked red, just like her eyes which twinkled with the fire's glow. Hans thought that he probably looked much the same. It was Gretel who slammed the oven shut.

“Well, Hänsel," she said in a husky voice, “haven't you found us just the feast! This will be a Christmas to remember."

Before he could answer, somebody knocked on the door.

Gretel looked annoyed. “Who is it?" she shouted.

“It is me, grandmamma," came a badly disguised voice from the outside, “your dear Little Red Riding Hood. I come to bring you…" but Gretel was already at the door, golden hair flying around her head like a shroud.

“Look, you punk! Wrong house! This is the gingerbread house. Gingerbread! It smells like gingerbread, it looks like gingerbread, and the almonds on the roof should be a dead giveaway. Riding Hood's granny lives that way," she pointed over to the hunter's abode, “not here. Now get lost and stop bothering us! It's Christmas after all, the most beautiful time of the year, and nobody here wants to be bothered with the likes of you, going from door to door looking for food. And don't leave that silly glass slipper on our doorstep either!"

“But it's cold and…" the wolf said in the tiniest voice with his tail between his legs.

“Grow some fur!" and Gretel slammed the door in his snout.

From the window, Hans saw the wolf slouching off toward the hunter's home. It made him smile. Gretel adjusted the coals beneath the oven to make sure the tender meat wouldn't get burned. Indeed, Hans thought, to himself, what a special Christmas this would be with such a welcome change to their… ah… gingerbread diet.

"Merry Christmas," he said to his sister, and began setting plates on the table.

"Merry Christmas," said Gretel.

From the oven, there came only soft and sizzly cooking noises and the smell of proper Christmas spirit.


(This story first appeared in Danse Macabre)





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