The next morning was a Saturday. Hansel and Gretel, who usually had to get up well before six to make it too school on time, were taking the rare opportunity to sleep in late when they were roused by a knock on their door and the sound of their stepmother’s voice.
“Rise and shine, children!” she shouted. “We’re going for a family picnic.”
Ten minutes later, they were in the back of their family’s only car, heading out of the suburbs and into the country. The traffic around them faded away like water in the desert, until they were alone on the long, grey road.
Their car slowed down beside a small clearing; more a truck bay than a park. Their stepmother led them off into the bush and down a path. The path was clear and straight for the first few hundred metres, but then it became twisted and dense, until they could barely see two meters in front of them.
After trudging along the winding pathway for what seemed like hours, they emerged into small clearing. There were several other pathways, equally warped, leading off into the distance.
Their stepmother slapped her knee. “I forgot the food!”
She turned to her husband. “Come on, come and help me get it.”
The children went to follow, but their stepmother gestured for them to stay.
“We’ll only be a few minutes. You stay here, alright?” She told them, feigning care.
Then she and their father walked off back along the path, the latter with an unhappy expression on his face.
Hansel and Gretel waited for a few minutes, and then a few more, until it became obvious that they weren’t coming back.
“Wow,” Gretel said sarcastically, “I wasn’t expecting that. If we run along the track, we can probably catch them. Come on!”
They broke into a jog, heading along the track. Ten minutes later, though, when they should have arrived at the road, they were still plundering through thick bush.
“There’s something wrong, Gretel,” Hansel told her, puffing.
“Nonsense,” she replied, continuing along.
The path began to thin on either side, and a clearing was visible ahead.
“See?” Gretel said smugly. “Right path.”
It became clear, however when the emerged into the glade, that it was the wrong one. There was no long, straight road alongside it. Instead, bush stretched out all around them and a tiny, old-fashioned cottage with a stable rested in the centre of the clearing.
“Or not,” Gretel muttered.
“I guess we should ask for directions,” Hansel suggested, gaining an odd look from Gretel. “What?”
“Nothing,” she replied, striding up to the wooden, brass-studded door, and knocking.
The door swung open immediately, a little old lady pulling it inwards like she’d known they were going to visit.
“Come inside,” she said kindly.
Hansel looked like he was going to protest, but Gretel cut him off. They needed to be nice to this woman if they wanted to get anywhere.