Tale #78: On Hansel And Gretel, And Horror

For me, perhaps for everyone, what I find to be the most dreadful part of Hansel and Gretel, the most horrifying bit, where it ultimately turns it into a tale of horror beyond compare, is the happy-ever-after ending.

There is an escalation of horrors throughout the story, of course – their mother’s death; the jealous malevolence of their stepmother; their abandonment in the woods; the pitcher-plant lure of the gingerbread house; the witch; the imprisonment; the slavery; the threatened (but never actualised) death by cannibalism.

But in a way this is all for show, a deft piece of misdirection, obscuring the real horror at the heart of the tale, the monster lurking at the edge of the screen as the credits roll, that final moment of dread as the screen goes black, that gnaws at you all night.

For here is our happy ending: the witch is dead, the stepmother is dead, and Hansel and Gretel return home to their father.

Their father, who took them to the woods and abandoned them, not once but twice.

Their father, who was perfectly willing to let them die, simply to appease his new wife.

Hansel and Gretel escape from the forest, and they escape the witch. But can there be any possible escape for them from their father. From his blankness, from his pliability, his disinterest and neglect. From his next, inevitable, betrayal.

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Notes:

1. Written in 2017 sometime
2. I remember starting it in January 2017
3. While ill
4. At the Eden Project
5. But I have no idea when I finished it

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Magic Trick

Our mother was a magician. She performed on stage and everything. She was brilliant. One day we came home from school and she had bricked herself up in the chimney.

“I’m in here,” she said cheerily.

“What are you doing in there,” I said.

“Hiding,” she replied.

“From who?” I asked.

“Everyone,” she said.

“How did you get in there, anyway?” Jane asked. “It’s tiny in there.”

Jane knew that cause once she’d crawled in the fireplace and pushed her head up there looking for fairies, and she’d almost got her head stuck.

“It was a bit of a squeeze,” Mum admitted.

She must have done some impressive contortions to slide herself up there. I could see Jane looking up and down the wall, imagining Mum’s body all stretched out up the pipe, standing on tiptoes, her arms pointing right up to heaven.

This still didn’t explain how she’d bricked up the fireplace behind her, but then Mum never did like explaining her tricks. She said it’d spoil them.

“Now go outside and watch this,” she told us, and we went and sat in the garden and waited. Eventually there was a puff of smoke, and a great fat pigeon flew out of the chimney pot and fluttered away across the street.

Two weeks later child protection arrived, and we’ve been in the orphanage ever since. They’re still looking for Dad.

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Notes:

1. Written on August 8th, 2019

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Graduation

They did not reveal to us our true nature until we were close to graduating from high school. An assembly was called, and a member of our class was brought on to the stage. As we watched, they peeled back the skin of their face, showing us the metallic structure beneath.

Knives were handed to each of us, so that we could confirm upon ourselves. We were thus sent out into the world, unsure of what it was, what it had been all this time.

I pulled the skin back down over the hydraulics in my wrist. The lacerations healed without scars. I never spoke of it again.

This was how it had always been done, how it always will be done.

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Notes:

1. Written on August 15th, 2019

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On sweat

I sweat

I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I sweat and I

***

I sweat when I’m hot. I sweat when I’m cold. I sweat when I’m nervous. I sweat when I’m relaxed. I sweat when I’m eating. I sweat when I’m hungry. I sweat when I’m ill. I sweat when I’m concentrating. I sweat when I wash. I sweat when I shave. I sweat when I shit. I sweat when I’m alone. I sweat when I’m around other people. I sweat when I’m anxious. I sweat when I wear a shirt. I sweat when I drink. I sweat when I drive.

I sweat when I desperately don’t want to sweat.

I sweat at the thought of sweating.

***

Sweat is not allowed. Perhaps it is in others, the fit, the healthy, the confident, the liked, but in me, no, never. Clothes are chosen in colours to hide the stains as best they can, t-shirts covered by a jumper when that doesn’t work, even in summer, even in the sun. A jacket finally, in this ridiculous futile charade, this self imposed feedback loop of increased sweat production, as I hope to hide what I cannot stop, hope to hide what can’t, ever, be hidden.

***

I sweat so much.

I sweat so much it runs down my face in waves, drips from my eyebrows, runs in waterfalls down my glasses, drips from my chin, percolates through my beard.

I sweat so much the arms of my t-shirts get soaked down to the elbows, halfway down to the waist, so much that the two circles centred round my armpits almost reach each other in the middle, a venn diagram of shame.

I sweat so much my jeans stick thickly to my legs, making my knees ache when I walk. I sweat so much the material of my boxers clings wetly to the tops of my thighs, chafing against the skin there until its as bald as if its been waxed.

I sweat so much some days I can barely use my phone, the screen unresponsive under the wetness of my thumb, necessitating a frantic rubbing of the screen against the left thigh of my jeans, the drying of my hand against the right.

I sweat so much it drips onto the page as I write this, the ink running beneath the drips, spreading like fungus to the edges of each dropletted circle on the page.

I sweat so much my whole skull aches. I sweat so much I feel like I’m dreaming, a strange sense of unreality, a feverless delirium, that comes in waves and only slowly subsides.

***

When I wake in the morning, there’s a perfect outline of my body drawn in salt upon the sheets. At least if I die at night, the police won’t need to waste their chalk.

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Notes:

1. Written on July 27th, 2019

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