My sister and I have been best friends all of our lives. But two weeks ago she moved away, and this little town where we grew up just hasn’t been the same. Without her here my life is just bland and uninteresting. I wish I could move away too, but someone has to look after our ageing father since our stepmother died.
Then, this past Monday, after a particularly dreary weekend, I arrived at work to find a pair of gingerbread cookies on my desk. By the steam gently rising from them, they were still warm! I don’t know what it is about gingerbread cookies, but they’ve always been my favourite.
I looked around the office to see who could have put these delights on my desk, but the office was empty. I sat there staring at the cookies, their smell intoxicating me until I could no longer resist. With small savouring bites, I ate them both. Then with a happy heart and indeed a happier stomach, I set about my day.
The next day on arriving at work, I was surprised to find another pair of cookies. I could tell they were there even before I saw them, the smell of gingerbread hitting me as I opened the door. Again I stared at them wondering who could possibly have put them there. But like the first two, they got better of me and were gone in seconds.
There were more there on Wednesday and Thursday. This time I enquired with my work colleagues, but no one seemed to know anything about them. They believed I was acting out because I was missing my sister. So I tried to ring her, in case it was her trying to ease my loneliness. But she didn’t answer. I figured her new life must have been keeping her busy.
By Friday I was actually excited to go to work. As I opened the door, I could smell them. They called to my desires and my mouth watered in anticipation. How my dull life had been changed in such a short time by this small daily gift. I flicked on the light, and there they were in all of their splendour. But this time, they were not alone. Next to the cookies was an envelope and it had my name on it. The excitement I felt was beyond imagining. Not only did I have more cookies but I felt I was about to learn the identity of my mystery cookie benefactor.
When I picked up the envelope, it felt heavier than I expected as if there was more than just a note inside. I gently tore open the envelope with my thumbnail and lifted it open. Inside was a folded piece of paper that smelled of gingerbread and tucked inside that was an old metal key.
The note was written in a flowing curled script that could only belong to my sister. As I read, I couldn’t help but munch on the cookies.
My dear brother,
I hope you’ve enjoyed the cookies I’ve had left you this week. I figured you’d be lonely, so I arranged for a friend to bake them for you. She’s just moved to the area, and I think she’ll be a perfect replacement for me.
This afternoon after work, come and meet us at her place. She lives in the woods near where we used to play as kids. Do you remember? Take the path in the woods behind your work.
I will see you soon,
Your loving sister.
The rest of the day was a struggle. It had only been two weeks, but all I could think about was meeting my sister and her new friend. And I have to admit I was also looking forward to more of the cookies.
Finally, when my workday had finished, I packed up my desk and with the key in my pocket, made my way through the office’s back door towards the trees I’d almost forgotten were there.
In the darkening wood, I found a path dotted with white pebbles. In the gloom the pebbles seemed to glow slightly, ensuring that I’d be able to find my way out again. I followed the path for almost fifteen minutes until it led to a clearing and within, a large wooden cottage. Lights from inside seemed to give it a sense of warmth, with smoke gently drifting from the brick chimney at the back.
I climbed the steps to a wooden porch and stood before the front door. I knocked once and again, but there was no response. So drawing forth the old metal key, I inserted it into the door and slowly turned it. There was a sharp click, and the door swung inwards silently as if the cottage was beckoning me to enter. Inside, there was a hall with closed wooden doors on either side. The room was sparsely decorated, and at the end, I could see the light coming from under a door. I assumed it was the kitchen and made my way across the wooden floor towards it, surprised that my steps made not a sound. When I reached the door, I pushed, and it swung effortlessly inwards on well-oiled hinges.
The kitchen was warm and inviting. The smell of gingerbread that permeated the rest of the house was strongest here. On the far side of the room, with her back to me was my sister, her golden hair hanging about her shoulders as she peered out through a window.
‘Hello?’ I asked, taking a step forward, an excited smile on my face.
My sister turned suddenly and gazed at me, a look of horror on her face. ‘Hansel? No!’
I heard the cottage’s front door slam and before my very eyes, the walls begin to change. The illusion of the kitchen fell away to leave walls of gingerbread, chairs and tables of chocolate, and all else made of candy.
‘Gretel, what’s going on?’ I peered around the gingerbread room in shock and fear. I’d seen this room before. Before my sister could answer an evil cackle issued forth from the very walls. A face appeared at the window my sister had been peering thought, a face that stepped right out of my childhood nightmares. It had burns across much of its skin, and most of its hair was missing, but in its eyes, the first of a witch burned.
‘Finally, we meet again, my little darlings.’ The croaking of her voice grated in my ears. ‘But this time, it shall be you who meets the fire. And I shall have roasted children.’ She flung her head back and cackled loudly. ‘Roasted children!’
As the heat in the room began to rise and furniture began to melt, I looked around for an escape. But the walls of gingerbread had begun to sag and crumple to the ground leaving behind walls of stone. The fire blackened stone of a huge oven.
©2013 – AJ Key