© Copyright Abra Ebner
In the woods, father led us in a direction we’d never been in before. We weaved over broken land and fern filled valleys where trails did not exist. When we’d walked for close to two hours he set us to work gathering kindling while he walked a ways back with his axe in hand. “I will be cutting over here.”
I waited until Father disappeared, not able to concentrate on the task I had been given. I heard his axe—Chop. Chop. Chop—the sound cooling my nerves.
He hadn’t left us.
Hansel set to work, collecting a large pile of kindling, but as night fell, Father’s chopping never ceased.
“Hansel, something’s wrong,” I at last announced, hearing a wolf’s cry not too far off.
Hansel stopped. His pile of kindling was so big I wondered how he proposed he’d ever get it home. This hadn’t made sense from the beginning, and it angered me that Hansel hadn’t questioned Father as I’d longed to. Why would Father take us two hours from home to collect wood when we could barely haul that wood two hours back? The mule had been sold, and the cart long since rotted.
“Nothing is wrong, Gretel. Keep collecting,” Hansel urged.
Something was definitely wrong, and I refused to let it slide. “No, Hansel. I think we should check on Father.” Dread lingered in the pit of my stomach like the the pebbled that led our way home. I would not quit until Hansel would listen.
Hansel sighed. “Fine.”
He huffed past me, taking big steps in the direction of our father’s axe.
Chop. Chop. Chop.
It was just as steady as it had been all day.
When we came upon the source of the sound I was horrified to see that Father’s axe had been tied to a branch with a yard of rope, the wind knocking it against the trunk until the tree had almost chopped right down.
“Hansel! It was a trick!” I admitted, seeing the obvious.
Hansel’s face crinkled. “No. No. No, Gretel. You’re wrong. Father likely grew tired and tied his axe here until tomorrow. He probably saw us working hard and didn’t want to interrupt, figuring we’d find our way home when we grew hungry.”
My stomach grumbled, but it did not shadow my doubt. Why couldn’t he see it? I rolled my eyes. “I don’t believe you. You’re being naïve,” I claimed, but Hansel had already made his way to the pebble trail and did not hear my objection.
I followed, wondering what his next excuse would be, and what the look on my Step Mother’s face would be like when we showed up—alive.
“Let’s hurry before it gets to dark,” Hansel added.
“We’re going to die,” I mumbled.
Once home, I saw Step Mother and Father through the window of the cottage, already eating dinner.
“They’ve started without us!” Hansel grumbled.
“I doubt they even expected us,” I added.
Hansel gave me a mean glare before opening the front door and we bounded in. Step Mother’s face told no lies. She was horrified. My father on the other hand looked far too relieved, but still, Hansel did not see it!
Step mother rose from her chair and ordered us to bed with no dinner, claiming we deserved none because we hadn’t hauled the wood home.