Once there was a brother and sister who lived with their father and stepmother at the edge of a great forest. Their names were Hansel and Gretel. Hansel was a short, round boy, who loved to wander in the forest. Gretel was tall and lanky, and she was interested in ways of making money, as the family was very poor. The father was a woodcutter. You would think that in a time when most people heated their little homes with wood fires that he would do all right. But he didn’t. He piled the wood he gathered from the forest in untidy heaps, and when people came shopping for wood, they saw the mess, and politely said they were just browsing.
Gretel was frustrated with her father. “Presentation is everything. Don’t you get it?”
But the father didn’t understand. He simply looked bewildered, and went into the forest to cut more wood.
“We have to do something,” said Gretel to her brother one evening. “We need a marketing plan. Father is never going to sell any wood this way.”
“Hush,” said Hansel. “What are they saying in the other room?”
The children listened, and much to their horror, they heard the stepmother plotting to get rid of them.
“Children are so expensive to raise,” said the stepmother. “Soon they’ll be teenagers, and then there will be no end of costs. Have you thought about all the stuff they’ll want? Have you thought about university?”
The father said nothing.
“Tomorrow,” said the stepmother, “I want you to take the children into the forest and leave them there. That way, we can have our own lives and not worry about having to pay for two lazy children.”
“Lazy,” muttered Gretel. “Look who’s talking.”
But now that Gretel knew of her stepmother’s plot, she had a plan of her own. “Tomorrow, before dawn,” she whispered to Hansel, “we get out of here.”
“All right,” said Hansel, but he couldn’t help a tear from rolling down his plump cheek at the hardness of the world.
The next morning, while the father and stepmother were still sleeping, Hansel and Gretel slipped out of the house. As Hansel was the one who knew his way about the forest, he led the way.
“Make sure and cover our tracks,” said Gretel, as they walked along.
“Don’t worry,” said Hansel. “They’ll never find us.”
When the father got up that morning, he found that his children had run away, carrying their few possessions with them. In spite of his wife’s exclamations of joy at the disappearance of the children, the father searched through the forest, hunting high and low. But he never found them, and he assumed his children had been eaten by wild animals. He went home and sat by the fire, for he was sad, and in spite of all her nagging, the husband refused to cut anymore wood.
As for the children, they wandered through the woods, never seeming to get anywhere. They stopped once to eat the bread that Gretel had stolen from the pantry, but by the time the Moon was shining high overhead, the children were so tired that they just lay down Beneatha tree to sleep.
“We’re lost,” said Gretel to her brother, as she stared up at the Moon. “Nice going, genius.”
“Don’t worry,” said Hansel. “Who knows what tomorrow will bring.”
And the children fell fast asleep in the forest.
The next morning, the children got up and wandered on through the trees. Soon, they came to an open space, and standing in the middle of the little meadow was a tiny house made of gingerbread. The posts that held up the porch roof were made of sugar candy, and icing dotted with gumdrops coated every surface.
“That doesn’t look suspicious at all,” said Gretel.
But Hansel had already run forward, and was scooping icing and gumdrops into his mouth. “Tastes good!” he cried, breaking off a bit of gingerbread from a windowsill.
Just then, the door opened, and out hobbled an old witch. Of course she was a witch, and she caught Hansel by the neck and stuffed him into a sack she carried in her other hand.
“A tasty, tasty treat,” said the old witch, in a voice that crackled like a fire. “Now just you come here,” she said to Gretel, “and you can join your brother.”
But Gretel wasn’t as stupid as all that. “Please don’t eat my brother!” cried Gretel, in her best afraid-little-girl voice. “If you agree not to eat my brother, I’ll work for you. I’ll do all of your chores and keep this place spick and span.”
The witch peered at Gretel out of red eyes. “Perhaps,” she murmured. “How about you come inside and show me what you can do?” The old witch was really planning to get Gretel into the house so she could cook her, but she was too used to easy prey, and didn’t know what she was getting herself in for.
Gretel came into the house and looked around. She saw the possibilities at once. It was a snug little place, and out back was a wide patio, where the witch kept cages for her victims.
The old witch had thrown Hansel into a cage, sack and all, and locked the door, chuckling and smacking her old lips.
Hansel poked his head out of the sack and stared wildly around. “You just let me out of this cage!” he shouted at the witch.
“You keep your shirt on,” said the witch to Hansel. “Your sister says she’ll work for me, and if she’s a good girl, then maybe I won’t eat you.”
She turned to Gretel. “I have this pan of brownies ready for baking. You just put your head inside the oven and see if it’s hot enough.”
Gretel rolled her eyes. Was the old woman kidding?
But in her sweetest little-girl voice, Gretel said, “I’ve never done that before. Can you show me once so I understand what you mean?”
“Stupid child!” cried the witch. “Like this.” And she yanked open the oven door and stuck her head inside.
Quick as a flash, Gretel caught the old witch by the neck. “Now listen here, you old hag,” said Gretel, through clenched teeth. “Your baking days are done. There are going to be a few changes around here.”
And there were. Gretel let Hansel out of his cage, and she stuffed in the witch. She kept the old woman locked up until she agreed not to trap and eat kids anymore.
Gretel swept and cleaned that little cottage. She found heaps of gold in the corners, and she used it to by a new oven and a barista machine. She ordered tables and chairs for the patio, and she got rid of the cages. When she was ready, she had signs pointing the way to the cottage. They read: Treats by “Gretel.” And in no time, she was open for business.
The old witch worked as a server, while Gretel baked, made candy, and ran the barista machine. People came from miles around to sit on the patio, sip coffee, and sample Gretel’s treats. Even the stepmother and father eventually found their way to the shop. Gretel didn’t feel much like forgiving them, so she hired them as her cleaning staff and put them to work.
And as for Hansel, he wasn’t much interested in Gretel’s business, but he came regularly to visit. He didn’t much like the manic gleam that Gretel got in her eye as she ordered about her staff and counted up her profits. But he decided not to worry about it. He mostly liked to wander the forest, getting to know the trees and the habits of the animals. And really, after a day of wandering in the forest, there was nothing like coming back to Gretel’s shop for a quiet coffee and a slice of her key lime pie.