The Pentagram

This is the creative project I did for a Point of View class I took my junior year of college.  This is the same class where I was originally assigned the Genesis exercise.  This project was supposed to utilize everything I’d learned about point of view to tell a story.  This is a rewrite of Hansel and Gretel, using multiple first person narrators (which is really a big no-no, but I wanted to try it out) to retell this fairy tale in a new light. 

I’m posting this exercise now because it will be a nice bridge between the four parts of my “Genesis” post, and the exercise which I’ll post this Sunday.  Both exercises originally came from the same class.  “Genesis” was a retelling of an older, popular story using multiple first-person narrators, as is this project.  The post to come on Sunday shares a different trait with this project, which I hope you all find interesting, if nothing else.


The Pentagram

I tried being nice to them, but they wouldn’t have that.  They were very cruel to me, those kids.  I can’t wonder if my husband might have been made a cuckold by his first wife, because neither Hansel nor Gretel possess his generosity.

We all live together, in a little cabin right by the forest—my husband is a woodcutter.  The woods are so beautiful, just an endless depth of green and shadow.  Sometimes, during sunrise (I’m always the first one up) there’s pollen in the air, and when the sunlight hits it, it reflects light like its own glow.  It’s like watching pixies dance, beckoning you closer.  Those mornings, when I had all the enchantment to myself, were sometimes all I had to look forward to in my life.

I like being out by the woods, away from the hurtful gossip in town.  I grew up in the forest, and despite the bad things that can happen there, I feel safer living near it.

Before I grew wise to how spiteful my step-daughter was, I tried to take her into the forest, to teach what was good and what might be poisonous, to show her where she could pick flowers, like my mother did for me, before her accident.  Gretel refused to enter, saying she was too scared.  When I told her I wouldn’t let anything harm her, she just screamed I wasn’t their real mommy and ran back to the house, into the protective arms of her brother, who glared at me as if I had slapped her.  That’s when I knew these children would never belong to me.  I shouldn’t have tried.

When Hansel and Gretel wouldn’t have me as a mother, I tried at least to prepare them for the world.  I disciplined them, teaching them that hard work was what paid off.  Perhaps they thought I was being mean, but the world is mean, and one must learn to bear it.  I never asked the impossible.  A bucket from the well might be too heavy for Hansel to carry, but I wouldn’t let Gretel help him, because a man must be strong, and if Hansel was to become a man then he would have to manage on his own.

Gretel would cry when her knuckles cracked from helping me clean, blood running down her fingers like ribbons.  I showed her my calluses, so she would know one had to abide by pain to grow stronger.  She only cried more, probably because she didn’t want her delicate ivory hands to turn into the twisted claws I had.

We all worked hard, though sometimes I had to push the children to get them to do anything, but it was never enough.  Pretty soon the four of us were starving.  I was just as hungry as anyone, but I never slacked, and still the children complained that they were hungry and that they couldn’t do work.  They had the largest share of food, which I resented.  Their father was earning the money, and he was the one who needed to get stronger so we all could live.  None of them understood that, and every time I tried to explain it all three looked at me like I was some sort of witch.  I began keeping my advice to myself, so Hansel and Gretel ate up like pigs while their starving father watched with a smile.  I couldn’t understand why children would use their father so, and why he would let them.

One night, when no one was getting any food, I knew I had to do something.  “I have a plan,” I said to my husband, keeping my voice low so as not to wake the children.  I was probably delirious from starvation, exhaustion, and maybe a little spite, but I suggested taking the children to the deepest part of the forest and leaving them there, to fend for themselves.

My husband said nothing for a while.  His silence was in pensiveness, tiredness, and not anger.  When he did speak, he said he couldn’t do that, that it was wrong, but his voice was lifeless, without any sort of character or vivacity.  I told him that the forest had much to offer, which he ought to know as well as me.  Not enough for two adults like us, of course, but plenty to sustain children.  Hansel was very clever, and I had managed to force Gretel into the forest with me once or twice, so she ought to know, I explained, which plants could nurture them, and what could harm them.

I spoke like I was singing a lullaby, rubbing his hand, feeling his bone under his rough skin, a hand that had no meat on it.  I felt him waver, but he still refused.

“Hansel and Gretel are too gentle for this world,” I said, and believed it after I said it.  “They’re not cut out for such work and such rejection.  In the forest, they can sleep as long as they want to, play in the streams and meadows, feed themselves off berries and nuts… maybe Hansel will learn to fish and Gretel can cook for them.  Do not force them to live like this, in a world of disappointment and… and cruelty.”

He looked at me, and through eyes full of desperation and sadness, I saw a little glimmer of hope.  “Do you really think… do you think they’ll be all right?”

All I had to do was assure him that two clever children should have no troubles at all.

***

She’s not our mommy, and she doesn’t love us.  She doesn’t smell like her.  I don’t think she even loves Daddy, even though he says she does.

Her cooking is horrible.  It tastes worse than tree bark, and I hate it.  I think she cooks so bad because she doesn’t like us.  I don’t know why she doesn’t just go away.

She took me out to the woods once.  I was scared.  She started picking things and telling me stuff, but I didn’t hear most of it because I thought I saw a wolf, and I was trying to watch for the wolf to make sure it didn’t kill us, except maybe it would be okay if it killed her, as long as she didn’t know she was dead, and then she yelled at me and asked if I was paying attention.  I said I was scared.  She said there wasn’t anything to be scared of, and that she wouldn’t let me get hurt, and I knew she was trying to be my Mommy but she’s not my Mommy, so I ran back to Hansel.

I thought she just didn’t like us, until one night me and Hansel were really hungry, and Daddy was trying to sing us to sleep so we faked it, like we always do.  Then I heard her talking to Daddy, and she said she was going to take us out into the woods and leave us there, and I was really scared because I thought of when she took me to the woods before and how maybe she was going to leave me there that time, except I was too fast for her.  I was scared and I started crying but Hansel held my hand and squeezed it so I knew that everything was okay.

Then she and Daddy went to bed, and when I heard her snoring I told Hansel we should run away, but he said no.  He told me to hush so he could think of something, so I tried really hard not to breathe loud.

Hansel said we had to save our bread from breakfast, and that we were going to leave pieces of it behind us when we went into the woods so we could make a trail to lead us home, like the hero did in the maze.

I think I fell asleep because the next thing she was waking me up, and telling me to get dressed because me and my brother had to go look for food today and help Daddy.

We all went into the woods together, and for a second I almost maked-believed we were a family, because she almost looked like my Mommy, cause she was really pretty in the sun that looked different in the morning.  But then Daddy left to go to the Camp, and she took us into the woods and was really mean.  I kept trying to have fun, but she kept being like “Gretel, what’s this?  Can you tell me what this does?”  and I kept saying “I don’t know” but then she’d just tell me anyway and say “Remember?”  I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad if Hansel hadn’t been being mean too, because he was just tearing off bread and bugging me for my piece, and I finally gave it to him but I didn’t want to because I was still hungry.

We walked for a really long time, and then we went to a cave, which was really neat and she told me and Hansel we could play in it if we wanted, because she had to leave for awhile, but she promised she’d be back.  I was kind of glad she was going, because I wanted to explore the cave and thought she’d be mean when I did, but then I remembered she was going to leave us and I got scared.  I wasn’t going to cry but she told me not anyway, and she was touching the side of my face which I really didn’t like because her hands are all rough, like Daddy’s whiskers, only not as nice.  Then she told Hansel he had to be a man and take care of me, and be nice to me, and I’m kind of glad she did that because Hansel was being really mean, and then she left.

I asked Hansel if he wanted to look at the cave with me, but he just said that we should try to find the trail as soon as possible.

It got dark and I was cold and hungry and my legs got scratched up.  I was really angry at Hansel because all our bread was gone, until we saw a light.  It wasn’t our house, but Hansel said we should go there and see if we couldn’t get help and when we got closer it smelled really good, like when Mommy used to make us sweets when I was real little so I ran to it.  Hansel told me to wait, but I didn’t because he started running to it too.  The door opened and I saw a lady standing there, and I thought for a minute it might be my Mommy.

***

I’ve always loved children, and no one can deny that.  My daughter, I loved my daughter.  I miss my daughter, my baby girl.  She ran away when she was just a little thing.  I did it for her.  I continue to do it for her.  It will help her find her way home to me.  My poor baby.

Of course I take them in, what else was there to do, the poor things, all cold and scratched and hungry.  The girl, Gretel, is nothing like my step-daughter, closer to my daughter.  She squints, making her gray eyes sparkle in the fire light, and I know she’s seen things.  She’s a bit too bitter, and a bit too cruel.  You can taste it just by talking to her.

The boy, he’s sweet.  Nothing like his sister.  But he eats a lot, almost too much, and I knew there’s only one way to get that back.

Gretel is shy.  Easy to tell she doesn’t like taking food from me.  See it in her face, she thinks it’s delicious, but you know she doesn’t want it.  Doesn’t trust it, smart child, just like my baby girl.  I know Gretel will be useful.  I can tell from her hands, so smooth, but starting to get creased, rough.  There are traces of lye right around her cuts, injured while cleaning, a hard worker.  A better little sister for my daughter.  She might help bring back my baby girl.  The boy is just useless.  Eats like a pig.  Well, he can be one then.  Pig-boy.

Of course there’s a little something in my ginger-bread.  Gretel doesn’t eat too much, clever girl, but it’s still it was enough to tuck her in.  I know I have to be quiet around her.  Ate enough to put her out, just not quite enough to keep her there.  I needn’t to worry about pig-boy, he doesn’t mind it one bit when I put him in the pen.  I do need to make a better pen, the one I have just hangs down from the ceiling.  It is horrible, keeping filthy stinking animals in the house.  Maybe that was why my baby-girl left.  Didn’t like it when pig-girl went up in the pen, in the house like that.

Gretel is upset when she wakes up, of course.  Thinks the pig-boy is her brother.  Poor little thing, all confused like that, just because some stupid pig-boy calls her “sister,” powerful word though.  Pig-girl used it on my baby to just the same effect.  But I won’t let Gretel-baby run away, no, she won’t get to learn about the woods.

We have to get rid of pig-boy, him upsetting Gretel and all.  Her face goes long, and her eyes get round like cookies, glazed over with tears, possibly from despair, probably from anger.  I can’t have her getting upset and making such expressions.  My new step-daughter, she won’t recognize what she is to me until I get rid of the pig!  But it is pointless just to put an animal down, no, better to use it for something.  A nice feast!  Yes, a good feast for me and my two daughters, a great time for them to meet.

I don’t explain it to Gretel, of course, it will be a surprise.  Such a nice surprise!

Gretel won’t get to learn about the woods until we get rid of pig-boy.  If I teach her about the woods now, she might run away again.  Not again, Gretel hasn’t run away yet, like my girl.  Yes, if I teach Gretel about the woods now, she might run away like her older sister.  So I teach her the kitchen.

I teach her how to cook things just so, how to knead the dough, bake the bread, shake out the sugar, froth up frosting, all just so.  I teach her how to bake to perfection.  She’ll be a master chef one day, my Gretel.  When she stirs the batter, her brow furrows, her eyebrows curtseying to each other like two fuzzy caterpillars, she’s so focused!  But I knew not to dote, not to over praise.  I can’t have her getting a big head, that’ll ruin a girl.  I’m never cruel though, just firm, just very firm, the perfect way to concoct a child.  It all requires precise ingredients, or else it’s a waste, and the work results in nothing.

Pig-boy will be ready by tomorrow night, we’ve been fattening him up so.  Fattening him up with sweets, which will make his meat sweeter.  Few know this about animals, that what they eat affects their taste.  That is why it is very important to feed them right, for whatever recipe you have prepared for them.  Every child in its place.

***

The man comes home from the woods feeling heavy.  He is not loaded with much wood, but he is still carrying the world, or so it feels like to him.

He comes home from the woods in fear, and it is always good to be cautious in the forest.  But at this moment it is not bears or wolves, nor loose stones and foot holes in the path of which he is wary, but his own children.  He reflects on how far he must have fallen, to fear two, sweet, innocent children of his own blood.  But he fears them, and the judgment they carry.

Every rustle behind the trees is their footsteps, following him.  Following him, dogging him, chasing him down with their judgment: “Why did you leave us, Papa?”  Though nowhere physically near him, they follow him like wraiths, full of chastisement and revenge.  He couldn’t stand up to her.  Not because he was weak, as he would like to believe, but because he was secretly glad she had thought of the solution before he had to.  Secretly glad that once again, he was responsible for nothing.  He can feel children’s eyes on his back.

If he were to find them, he would have to take them home.  He wanted to find them, and yet he was afraid to.  It would increase and alleviate the guilt.  Children are the best tribunal, he thinks, remembering the way Gretel looked at him reproachfully when they parted ways just a few days ago, how Hansel looked hopeful that he might change his mind, and tell them to stay home, as if they all ready knew what was laid out for them.

He makes it home without encountering the children, and he is relieved.  He fears retuning to the woods tomorrow, but knows that he must, or else the sacrifice of his blood would have been in vain.

He comes home to find his wife with another man in the kitchen, the blacksmith.  They are talking, his wife at a respectful distance, and the man almost wishes she was an adulteress, any excuse to kill her and save himself from children’s judgment.  Children see things purely, only black and white, no shades of gray.  You are either innocent or condemned, and in their eyes he is certain that he is a condemned man.

The man vaguely remembers that the blacksmith owes him a large sum of money, and he thinks for a moment of killing the blacksmith.  It was this loan that put them in debt to begin with, then perhaps the blacksmith would be to blame for the absent children.  Killing the blacksmith might alleviate this censure which has spread through the man’s body and mind like a cancer.

The blacksmith has come to repay his loan.  With interest.  He thanks the man, thanks the wife, again and again for their patience, for giving him this opportunity.  If there is anything they need, anything at all, he says.  He’s already agreed to join the search parties, he informs the man proudly.  The man thinks the blacksmith is referring to a search for his own person, the guilty man fleeing into the woods, away from the town and into destruction at the hands of children.  He realizes then that the blacksmith is referring to the children, the ones who have gone missing, who still might be found.  He sees their faces, pale and ghostly but not quite dead, not yet, coming for him with dark eyes full of judgment and he almost tells the blacksmith that if he wants to help he should kill the children when he finds them, to spare the man their judgment.

After the blacksmith leaves, the wife asks the man if he would not like to bring the children back?  She has a fair idea of where they are, she says.  She could bring them home, if he wanted to.  She suggests it as casually as the dinner options.

It was the wife who reported the children missing.  All of the town says they believe she did it.  He almost knows that they secretly blame him, that they each suspect him as the main culprit.  He understands that it is simply easier to blame his wife, rumored to be a witch since her mysterious appearance years ago.  He understands, because it is easier for him to blame her as well.  He has never consummated his marriage with her.  Perhaps if the children were to come home, he could claim to have been under her spell?  Surely they would believe that, the town he knows would believe that.  But what of the children?  Were they still wise in their lack of years to sense dishonesty, to know that he was lying?  Would he have to live with their censuring eyes, fearing that they would come for his life when he slept?  No, no, he could not just go back to living with the children.

The wife almost insists.  She says she is sure the children are still alive, that she could find them in a day, bring them back maybe a little hungry, maybe a little shaken, but otherwise fine.  She says there are dangerous things in the woods, things worse than wolves or loose stones.  She says she will bring the children home.

He can hear the desperation in her voice, hear her own guilt dropping from her mouth.  He thinks that she wants to pin it on him, to get to the children before he can.  To tell them that he went along with it, that he didn’t fight for them.  And then the three of them would kill him together, avenging themselves against him, finally the three of them the family he’d always wanted them to be, himself the uniting cause.

He cannot let that happen.

The wife is all ready gathering her things.  She will take whatever food is in the house, saving the man’s supper.  She tells him a list of things he’ll need to get at the market tomorrow.  She reminds him that, should they use this money wisely, save it, that he might not have to work so hard.  As it is, he should certainly take the day off tomorrow, and go to the market.  Then come home, wait for them.  She should be home by tomorrow night, possibly very late.  His wife was never afraid of the woods.  She throws on her cloak.  She is not afraid of judgment.

He cannot let her leave.  The axe is outside, too far away, but the butcher knife never got a chance to dull.  They never ate enough meat.  Surely it could pierce human flesh.  His wife watches him from under her hood, wary but not entirely sure until it is too late, until he lunges with the knife reflecting the fire under his cooking dinner.  The orange and yellow dances, reflected in the blade, and the knife looks like the fiery sword of an avenging angel.

***

I always thought witches were made up.  That’s what my step-mother said, and even Mom said that evil, that bad stuff, was just some confusion or sadness that’s been messed up.  Mom said that people just made up things like witches and monsters to explain why bad things happen, when the truth is that bad stuff just happens sometimes.  But when I’m trapped in an oversized birdcage hung from some crazy lady’s roof, it’s hard to think about evil not being on purpose.

Then again, at least the crazy lady was crazy, which is more than I can say for Gretel.  But she was just a kid, everything was still a game to her.  She just didn’t understand.

I told her to lock the witch in the oven, so then she could let me out.  Lock her in, that’s it.  That was supposed to be our plan.  Gretel missed so many times when she could’ve done it, I thought that maybe she forgot.  The crazy lady was fretting around the kitchen, talking about preparing a dinner, “a nice big dinner” for her two daughters, and she must have leaned into the oven at least a dozen times.  Gretel said that the crazy lady was trying to eat me when I told her the plan with the oven, right before she started crying, but I bet it was just her overactive imagination.  Crazy or not, the lady wouldn’t have eaten anybody, that’s just gross.

I didn’t get frustrated with Gretel, though, until she didn’t push the crazy lady into the oven when she could’ve.  I was sure that she forgot, and I groaned when crazy-lady lit the oven, because I was thinking “Great, we’re going to have to wait till she’s done baking before we can get out of here.”  I was thinking this, and that’s when the crazy woman leaned into the oven to put a cookie sheet on and that’s when Gretel…

And afterward she was totally normal about it.  She just waited until the crazy lady stopped… screaming, and then she came over to me with the same smile she uses to make daisy chains.  I was kind of afraid of her.  I was afraid of my little sister, the kid who gets scared of fire ants.

It took awhile to get down from the cage, partly because my legs were all cramped and tingly, but also because I was kind of in shock.  My little sister… and intentionally, ‘cause I asked why she couldn’t have done that when the fire wasn’t lit.  “I had to, Hansel, she was going to eat you.  Besides, maybe she would have gotten out and chased us and…” she said more, but it doesn’t matter.

I had no clue where we were, and thought we would be lucky if we found our way back to the cave, let alone home, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted us to get as far away from that house as possible.  There was dark, smelly smoke coming out of its chimney, and the sky was red from the sunset, and it looked like blood and fire.

Everything in the woods felt different.  I felt like I was walking through a painting, it just felt so still and vibrant.  Gretel was humming behind me, where I held her by the hand, picking blue bells and everywhere I looked I kept seeing singe marks, and fires kept jumping up in the corner of my eye.  And Gretel was just humming, totally oblivious to what she’d just done.  I felt weak.

We must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember is waking up by the cave, it was night, and seeing her standing there.  For a second I thought it was the crazy lady, and I almost screamed, but then I saw it was just our step-mom.  I think I gasped, but I know I scooted back.

“Your father has gone mad.”  That’s all she said.  What are you supposed to say to that?  She was panting, and I saw something sticky above her collar bone reflected in the weak light, but it was too dark to tell what it was.

I don’t think my step mom is evil.  I was pretty scared of her right then, but I didn’t think she was evil.  It’s like my mom said, people just get sad and confused and then they do bad things, and that’s all that happened to my step-mom.  She was just confused, and I know for a fact that hunger can mess with you.

I think I blinked, because she was suddenly squatting down right in front of me at eye-level, which really freaked me out because I couldn’t see her, but she talked like she could see me.  I couldn’t see the sticky stuff anymore.  I couldn’t even make out her jaw moving when she said “Hansel, I think your father means to kill us.”  Her face was just this oval patch of darkness in the shadows, like someone had smudged it out.

I wanted to gulp, but my mouth was too dry.  “You’re lying.”

“Am I?”

“You’re the one who wanted to…”

“No, I wanted to get rid of you.  I don’t murder children.  Other people do.”

I was getting really freaked out, and that’s when I heard my Dad.  I could hear him calling in the distance, calling for us, for me and Gretel, saying that everything was okay now, that he fixed it.  I was about to scream “We’re over here!” but my step-mom grabbed my head and put her hand over my mouth so that I accidentally licked her palm, which was gross.  “Hansel, you do not want to do that.”

I started kicking, trying to pry her hand off.  I was about to bite when she cried and let go, putting her hand on the sticky stuff.  She’d moved into better light from when we were struggling, and looked bitter.  We both were panting.

“Fine,” she said, and I saw something snake through her fingers, the ones on her chest, and for a second it looked like a worm poking its head through and then it just fell apart and dripped down, like a tear.  I could hear Dad calling my name.  “Fine.  You go back to that maniac and see what happens, just see what happens.”

She got up to go, but I told her to wait.  I don’t know why, but something told me she might be telling the truth, that maybe Dad had gone crazy, but I didn’t know how to make sure.  “I leaving,” she said.  “I’m going in one minute, and you can wake up your sister and follow, or not, I don’t care, but make your decision now and don’t you dare let him know where we are, at least not until I’m gone.”

I could still hear him calling to us, almost pleading, saying that everything was fine now, that he fixed everything.  He promised he wasn’t going to hurt us.

“Where are you going?”  I said, and shook Gretel’s shoulder to wake her up.  I heard her mumble my name, and I knew her eyelashes were probably fluttering.

My step-mom turned her head to where Dad was coming from.  “I don’t know.  Forward.  Are you coming or not?”

“Just let me wake my sister up.”  But Gretel was all ready awake, and before I could stop her she saw our step-mom and started screaming.  I told her to be quiet, and my step-mom hissed to shut her up, but he had all ready heard, and was calling out for Gretel and she just screamed “Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!” over and over again, and he was clomping towards us like some bear, calling to Gretel, saying he was here, to hang on, it would be over soon, and for a second I thought that maybe he was okay and that my step-mom was lying, but there was something wrong, something in his voice, something that in the way said it would be over soon.

“Just leave her!” and then my step-mom grabbed my arm, really tightly, and she pulled me up and then the next thing I knew we were running, and I felt like a shadow, moving so fast and so quiet, my step-mom pulling me along, occasionally crying like she was hurt, and in the distance I could still hear Gretel screaming “Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!” and he just kept saying “I’m coming.  I’m coming” and somehow I looked at the sky, just for a second, and I could see black smoke twisting and writhing in the black sky.


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