***Disclaimer: This is a work of Fan Fiction.
It is an adaptation of the characters created and owned by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
This story is not associated with Disney’s adaptations, their added characters, or story elements. ***
Wilhelm felt the wall shudder as the thunder shook the tavern. He drank from his warm ale. The room was warm and lit well, almost as if to contrast the storm that raged outside. Those in the tavern kept to themselves. That suited Wilhelm. He dug through his satchel beside him and retrieved a worn journal. Wilhelm flipped through the pages. He had read it from cover to cover. His father had only dropped subtle hints within the entries of where he might have gone. He ran a hand over his eyes; he reached for his ale and took a long swig. If his brother was here, he might have had a better chance of finding him.
A disheveled young lad rushed into the tavern. He wore what had once been a crisp jacket with a royal seal. As he stood in the doorway, water dripped from his clothes. The boy looked as if he had taken a swim in a lake rather than braved the storm. He looked around the tavern and found Wilhelm’s eyes. A spark of recognition flashed across the boy’s face, and he rushed towards the booth. Wilhelm tensed and wondered if this was the end of his quiet night.
“Are you Wilhelm Grimm? Brother to Jacob Grimm?” the boy asked. Dread curled within Wilhelm’s stomach. He had not heard from his brother in months.
“Aye, lad. What of it?”
“Your brother sent me to deliver this letter to you. He instructed me to go to your family’s farm, but I found it deserted. I have followed your trail since then.” As he spoke, he dug through his bag for the letter. Wilhelm looked over the boy’s wet form and gestured to the barkeeper. The messenger took a seat and offered Wilhelm the letter. Wilhelm tore it open without hesitation and read while he ran a hand over his beard. The barkeeper brought a warm ale to the boy.
“A frog? The first my brother writes to me in months, and he wants advice about a frog?” he asked more to himself than the lad.
“It was the strangest thing I had ever seen! Not only that, but it talked! I thought it witchcraft, but you know how faeries get when slighted.” Wilhelm ran a hand through his beard as he went over the contents of the letter again.
“That is strange…” Wilhelm muttered and gave the lad a half-smile. “So much for the cushy life in the castle, eh?” Wilhelm couldn’t contain the laughter. His brother wanted to get away from the hard work of farm life. Yet, he stumbled into something more perplexing. The messenger focused on the ale and fidgeted at Wilhelm’s laughter.
“I will write back to him to give him a good what for. Months with nothing, and he writes to ask advice on a frog. As if it could talk! What a farce this is! Lad, stay a few nights here and rest from your travels. You will have a letter to return to my useless brother before you leave,” Wilhelm laughed.
“I would be careful in these parts, Sir Wilhelm. There is a rumor that two children disappeared after they had left home.” Wilhelm caught him as he slid from the booth.
“Where did you hear this?”
Wilhelm set off to the house the next morning. Two children that had vanished? This felt so like his father’s disappearance, and he could not let it go without an investigation. Wilhelm had arrived in this town the prior evening, and the rain had forced him into the tavern. In the morning light, he could see the town for what it was. Destitute. The houses had fallen apart from the roofs to the doors. The people walked along the muddy roads were more akin to skeletons than humans. The tavern was the only place well off. His head shook at the thought. He was here to help his father, not a village.
The mud sucked on his boots and squelched as he trudged towards the house the messenger described. Holes littered the roof and did nothing to block the storm from the previous night. A woman stood beyond the broken wooden fence. She hung sheets on a thread tied between two trees. The threadbare sheets dripped into the mud below them. Wilhelm cleared his throat and waved to the woman. She glared at him with a face so sharp that it would rival any knife. Wilhelm swallowed and ran a hand through his matted brown hair. A man stepped out of the hut and glared at him.
“What business do ye have with us, stranger?” he called from across the yard. Wilhelm stayed on the other side of the fence. The man was twice his size, which said something as Wilhelm was taller than most men.
“I heard your children had gone missing in the woods, and I am here to offer my assistance.” The moment the words left his mouth, Wilhelm cringed. Why had he said that? He was not here to find children. He was here to find his father.
“We don’t want help from your kind, outsider,” he called, but there was anger in his voice and an undertone of nervousness. Wilhelm observed this and frowned.
“If you could point me in the direction you last saw them, that is all I need.” The man coughed and pointed behind Wilhelm. He looked towards the woods. Behind Wilhelm, the front door slam shut.
He started to make his way towards the woods but stopped mid-step. The hut was not fit for a single person, let alone four. His gut twisted as a sense of wrongness settled in. Something wasn’t right. As if pulled, he went in the opposite direction the man had pointed in.
The forest surrounding the village consisted of the darkest trees Wilhelm had ever seen. When he traveled into the town last night, he had assumed it was because of the storm. In the overcast light of day, the wood appeared to be black. A shiver raced up his spine. He tried to ignore how the branches resembled clawed hands that reached out to him. They resembled nothing like the peaceful trees of his farm.
The farm felt as if it belonged in a different realm instead of this one. Once he found his father, they would return home to their peaceful existence. He wished he was back there now.
His nostalgic thoughts came to an end as his boot sunk in the mud. He pulled once; it held firm. He yanked on his leg again. The boot came loose as if he pulled it from the mouth of the earth itself. Wilhelm tumbled backward into the dark muck. He cursed loudly as the filth covered his clothing and seeped into the fabric. He grimaced at the thought of the journey back. The mud was bound to make the journey uncomfortable. His eye caught on a small white blob beside him. He plucked the sticky substance from the sludge and rolled it in his fingers. It resembled bread. Why was there bread in the mud near a starved town? He stood and shook off as much muck as he could. His eyes fell on another bread crumb.
He found bread crumb after bread crumb in the mud. The sludge smelled fouler the deeper he ventured into the woods. The putrid scents penetrated his nose and caused his eyes to water. Still, he continued forward. The few birds in the woods were silent. What was this cursed place? He took a breath, and the stale air made him gag. It was as if even the wind would not dare enter here.
A child’s scream caused his head to snap up from the breadcrumb trail. He followed the sound. A small cottage came into view. It was made of stone and sat upon a bed of lush green grass. Blooming bushes and trees of the deepest green surrounded the cottage. The contrast between the lush green trees before him and the dead forest behind him made him uneasy.
Another scream shattered the silence. It had come from the cottage. Wilhelm crept to the window and peered into the swirled colored glass. Two small children and an old woman were within. The boy squirmed and screamed as he tried to escape her clutches. The woman dragged him without mercy towards a large oven. The second child, a young girl, sat bound to a chair. She sobbed and begged the woman to leave her brother alone.
Whatever the woman planned to do with the children, it wouldn’t end well. Wilhelm charged at the door and slammed into it with his shoulder. The door broke off its hinges under Wilhelm’s weight. The shrill woman whirled around in shock. The boy saw his chance and wasted no time. He shoved all his weight into her. She stumbled and tumbled straight into the open oven. The flames licked at her body as she screamed and stretched to get out. He pulled the oven door closed and slammed down the lock just as her fingers grazed the oven door. The bound girl sobbed in relief. Wilhelm stood in the chaos, flabbergasted.
“What the hell is going on?” Wilhelm demanded. Within the oven, the woman screamed. He felt tempted to help her, but something in his bones warned him against it. The boy ran to his sister and started to untie her.
“That was a witch. Our parents abandoned us in the woods, and she took us in,” the boy explained as his small fingers worked at the knots.
“She fed us, and at first we thought it was nice… The witch was fattening us up for dinner,” the girl sobbed. The disturbed screams from the oven died down. Wilhelm pulled a knife from his pocket. He sawed at the ropes, and the boy stood to the side but watched them.
“What are your names?” Wilhelm asked as he sawed.
“I-I’m Hansel, and this is my sister Gretel,” the boy said as his voice quivered. Wilhelm had to give him credit at his bravery.
“You didn’t see a man come through here, did you?” Wilhelm asked. The boy shook his head, and his lip wobbled. Frustration twisted in Wilhelm’s stomach. Another dead end. Wilhelm finished the last rope, and the two siblings rushed for each other. They sobbed into each other’s arms. Wilhelm felt a touch of nostalgia at the siblings and felt his heartstrings pull taught. After a moment, he shook it off and looked away.
Outside the broken door, Wilhelm watched as the lush green plants curled and turned to ash. As if it breathed in stolen life, the color of the woods began to return. The dark woods faded as the bright autumn colors replaced the gloom. The shadows retreated, and light filtered in between the branches. The birds that sang in the distance reached his ears. Wilhelm was not able to wrap his mind around the events he had witnessed. It looked as though the decay was leaving the forest and had begun to sink its claws into the witch’s domain. The house groaned, and he snapped his head up as the ceiling swayed.
Wilhelm scooped up the children and dashed out of the house. The structure groaned again. All at once, the house collapsed under its weight. Whatever spell the witch had cast over the woods, it was broken. Wilhelm stood at the edge of the witch’s domain. The children sobbed in his arms. His mind went back to his brother. A talking frog did not feel so ridiculous now. Wilhelm started back towards town with each child tucked in his arms. His mind reeled over what had transpired. He would have to write to his brother about this.