“Hansel, Gretel!” the man in the doorway called out.
He opened his arms wide and wrapped Hansel in a giant hug. I hung back, not sure what would happen to me when the man realized I was not his daughter Gretel, but someone else entirely.
“Come, Gretel,” he said as he looked over Hansel’s shoulder and waved to me. I looked into his twinkling blue eyes, and I saw nothing there to fear. So I stepped forward slowly, waiting for it. Waiting for the look in his eyes to change. For the question mark to replace the welcome. But it didn’t appear. One step turned into two, and three turned into four. Before I knew it, I was wrapped in the same warm hug. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Why didn’t he see that I wasn’t Gretel? I could only rationalize it one way–this was a dream. As much as it felt real, it couldn’t be. So with that resolution, I followed Hansel’s father into the cabin. A warm fire flickered gently in the brick fireplace in the corner. A small table was laid with a white tablecloth. I could see few furnishings. Certainly nothing like our living room at home. There was no television, no computer and no telephone. In the corner was a small bed made up with a faded red blanket.
“I thought we had lost you forever,” Hansel’s father was saying to us. “I searched and searched, where were you?” I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears of joy at our return. I was about to tell him what had happened, but just then, a rush of cold air struck my face, stinging me like a slap.
There she was. The stepmother. The reason Hansel and his sister had been left in the forest.
“Hansel, Gretel–you have returned,” she said with a happy lilt to her voice. I wondered if anyone else could see the narrowing of her emerald eyes, the clenching of her jaw. “We thought you were gone,” she finished.
“You hoped we were gone,” I muttered under my breath. It was so quiet, no one could have heard it. Yet, somehow, inexplicably, she did. She turned her venomous smile on me.
“Well, then, you must be too tired to eat, Gretel. Off to bed with you then.” And just like that, I was sent up the ladder to the second floor to sleep. I climbed the ladder, reaching the top rung and looking around to get my bearings. A small alcove, filled by a mattress on the floor and nothing else. It was cold and dark. And I was hungry. It was definitely time to wake up from this nightmare.
I sat down on the mattress. It looked clean enough. I closed my eyes. And hoped that when I opened them again, I would be home.