Hans and Greta
We thought we found the way. We thought we found the way home...but then...horrors.
Under the rule of the Ash Queen, many miseries and woes plagued the land. Illness and war and other such horrors punished the land and all who lived there. Among these troubles was a long, harsh famine that spread across the land. Crops would not grow and people were starving.
During this famine, a woodcutter lived near the woods with his wife and two children. The children, an older boy named Hans and a younger girl named Greta, spent much of their time playing int the woods, coming to know it well. Their parents kept sending them deeper and deeper into the woods to find food during the famine, and so the children developed ways of recognizing their way through the dense forest.
But their parents were distressed, for there was barely any food for the family to share. The children's mother, who was becoming more and more desperate with hunger, kept suggesting that she and her husband hide food from their children so that there would be more for them. But the gentle father refused. They were a family, he would say. They would eat together or starve together.
As time went on, things only got worse. Finally, one day, the mother sent her two children further into the woods than they'd ever been before. They obeyed her and searched fruitlessly for food to bring home. Soon, it got late and the forest was soon shrouded in darkness. But the children were not afraid of their forest. Hans climbed a tree and searched for their home by moonlight. In the dark, he just spotted smoke billowing from their chimney off in the distance. He climbed down quickly and told Greta what he'd seen. They grew very excited, for they assumed their parents must have found food.
The children went their way through the forest, following their markers and secret tracks that they'd made throughout the forest. It was not long before they found their way home and, bursting through the door, they saw their mother standing by the fireplace, cooking.
"Mother!" they cried. "You've found food!"
"Yes, dears," said the mother, not turning to look at them. "We are fortunate. Your father has provided us with meat today. Sit down and I shall serve you."
The children let out cries of delight, for they hadn't had meat in a very long time. Just as they were about to sit at the table, Hans looked around the house and frowned. "Where's father?" he asked.
"Still cutting wood," the mother replied. "He'll be along soon."
"But we cannot eat without him," Hans insisted. "We eat as a family or we starve as a family."
The mother turned to scowl at her son. "Father provided us with meat for a change and yet you refuse it?"
"No," said Hans. "I just don't want to eat without him."
"Mother," said Greta, softly. "We must wait just a little for father. He brought us meat, he should have some too."
The woman's scowl grew darker and she turned her back on her children. "Fine, she growled. "Then I shall eat it myself!"
She frantically began eating the meat still cooking in the pot. The children cried out.
"Mother! Mother! Wait for Father! That is all we ask. He'll be home soon."
"Father will not be home," the mother hissed, bits of meat between her teeth and the still red juice dripping from her chin. "He could not provide anything for us anymore. So I made provisions for us!"
Greta blinked in confusion, but Hans stiffened in fear. "Mother," he said, his voice shaking. "Where is Father?"
"He will not be home," she sneered.
"Where is Father? Where is Father!? Where is Father!?"
The mother cackled as she continued to eat the half-cooked meat from the pot. "Father could not bring us dinner...so he shall keep us alive in the only way he could." Laughing terribly, she opened a cupboard and out fell a mass of bones.
Among which was the skull of a man.
The children screamed and wept and wailed in terror. Their deranged mother laughed at their distress.
"Now, children, you shall feast with me! Let us partake of your worthless father's last offering!"
"Never!" cried Hans.
The mother smiled. "Then, my dear, you shall return your flesh to me!"
She reached out and grabbed a handful of Hans' hair. She lifted him off the ground, intending to throw him into the stew pot. He struggled and screamed, pulled her hair, and scratched her face. His finger poked her eye and, in pain, she relinquished her grip enough for him to bite her hand hard and run across the house to a corner.
The mother was undaunted by this. She went to the table and grabbed a carving knife, still dirty from her earlier, unspeakable acts.
"You have a taste for flesh after all, my son," she said, showing him the bite marks on her hand. "Now, return to me that which is rightfully mine!"
As she raised the knife high, about to bring it down on the cowering boy, Greta sprang into action. She ran forward and rammed her little body as hard as she could into her mother's side. The deranged woman lost her balance and fell into the hearth. The gruesome stew spilled onto the floor and the mother fell into the flames of the hearth. She screamed wildly as her dress and hair caught fire at once. She ran about the house, blind with pain, everything she touched catching fire.
The two, terrified children fled from the house, pausing only to pick up the skull of their father. When they'd run a great distance into the dark woods, they climbed a tree and watched from a far as their house, and their mother, burned to ashes.
The next morning, after sleeping fitfully in the woods, the children dug a tiny grave and placed the skull of their father within it. They prayed for their parents' souls then set out, having no one but each other, into the dense, dark forest.