2 starved children (variety: hungry will do, unloved taste sweeter)
1 dusky forest, poorly marked and overgrown
1 gingerbread house (pre-fabricated acceptable, but guests will know)

Coat the starved children in tattered rags and lies. Lead
them to the edge of the dusky forest, their trust as thin and brittle
as the apologies of a feckless father.

Fold the children into the woods, aching limbs tumbling over upturned roots,
ducking beneath flagging branches. Listen as their stomachs
churn, breaking down the memories of bread, moldy and stale.

Place the gingerbread house, with sugar-coated shingles,
caramelized shutters, frosted panes in the middle of the forest,
at the cusp of the children’s exhaustion.

Make it impossible for them to turn back, turn around,
only turn on each other.

Fill the children with confections, doughs, icings, delights their step-mother knew,
but was too practical to bake or buy, yanking them away from the bakery
window on every trip into town, muttering something about sweets and rot.

Pull apart the siblings, sever their tender, familial sinews.
The bond that grew in the woods withers when brought to light,
stumbling across the witch’s syrupy threshold.

Marinate the girl with memories of a timorous father, stooped and fallow,
eyes hooded, dull like the boy’s; a willful step-mother;
an empty store cupboard, crumbling pantry, hollow larder.

Double check that the oven is preheated, the fire blazing, ready,
once she’s made her choice.

Knead her with strong hands, shaping her will, rolling out her future, papery thin,
only enough to cover her scraped limbs, no scraps, no extra wasted in the woods
by a prodigal brother, feeding sparrows, the hare, rather than surviving.

Allow the girl to rest, calculate the risks. Set a timer for five minutes. Do not allow
her to over-think her next move, to regret her decision. Any longer and pity
overwhelms her plot: escape, revenge, desserts that seem just to a child’s palate.

When she is ready, pinch her cheeks, dole out compliments.
Garnish her with the courage to never look back.

Clean the oven once the girl has gone to bed, tucked in deep beneath
layers of blankets to keep out the cold, the dark, the smell.

Toss the bones in a pot to simmer and cook down overnight.
Nothing wasted, everything earned.

About the Author

  1. Avatar Shelly Jones (2 stories )


    Shelly Jones, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, literature, and writing. Her speculative work has been published in Podcastle, New Myths, The Future Fire, and elsewhere.