“Help!” Gretel called as she gripped the rungs of the iron cage. Whenever the witch left the cottage, Gretel hollered long and loud, hoping a passing woodsman might hear.
“Don’t waste your breath,” Hansel said. “The witch is the only one around for miles and you’ll be sorry if she hears you.”
But Gretel was already sorry. Sorry they’d become lost in the forest. Sorry they’d stumbled upon the gingerbread cottage. Sorry they had been force fed by the witch. As her prisoner, Gretel and Hansel had grown nice and fat, perfect for roasting in the oven. The witch planned to eat them on Christmas day.
“We must find help,” Gretel sobbed.
“Relax, sister, and stop your tears. We don’t need to find help, for help will come to us.” Hansel grinned. “On Christmas Eve, Santa brings gifts to every house that holds a child. We just need patience.”
Late on Christmas Eve, Gretel lay awake, watching the chimney for Santa’s appearance, when the door creaked open, revealing a bearded man in red. It wasn’t Santa’s famous style of entry—not half as dramatic—but Gretel didn’t mind.
“Santa!” she whispered, careful not to wake the witch sleeping in the nearby bunk. “Please set us free from this cage.”
“We’re to be the witch’s Christmas feast,” Hansel added.
“Ho, we can’t have that.” Moving nimbly for such a big man, Santa bounded across the room, unlatched the cage and raised a large, red sack.
“What a big bag you have, Santa,” Gretel said.
Santa flashed large teeth. “Perfect for rescuing children.”
They climbed in.
“Now be quiet and still,” Santa said, his voice sounding strange through the sack’s thick cloth. “I’ll soon have you home.”
Inside the sack, as they bounced and bobbed against Santa’s back, Gretel marvelled at their luck. Not only had Santa appeared as they’d hoped, they must have caught him at the end of his travels. Not a single gift remained inside the big bag, which meant there was plenty of room for Hansel and herself.
Then a thought crossed Gretel’s mind. Where were the presents meant for them, the gifts Santa had planned to leave in the witch’s cottage?
Before she could ponder the missing gifts further, Santa plonked the sack down. “We have arrived,” he chuckled and opened the bag.
Light drenched the children as they teetered to their feet.
“Papa!” Gretel cheered, spreading her arms wide for a hug. But their father wasn’t there. They weren’t even in the correct home.
If the place they stood could even be called a home. The walls were dirt and tree roots protruded from the roof. There wasn’t a table or a bed or cupboards and the whole room stank of dogs. The only house-like item in sight was a stove with a giant pot bubbling atop it.
“Is this your house?” Gretel asked, frowning. Where were all the presents and elves? Where was Mrs Claus and Rudolph?
“Are we staying for Christmas dinner?” Hansel asked, eyeing the steaming pot.
“Yes, children, you are.” Santa whipped off his hat, revealing pointed ears on the top of his head.
“My,” Gretel croaked around building fear. “What big ears you have.”
“Yes,” Santa said. “Perfect for hearing the calls, plots and plans of trapped little children.” He dragged off the long, white beard and leered, saliva tripping from large, pointed teeth. With his snout twitching and eyes shimmering, he dropped to all fours and growled.
“You’re not Santa,” Gretel squeaked.
“Of course not,” the wolf said. “Don’t you know, Santa is just a fairy tale.”
He licked his lips and pounced.
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Emerging Worlds is a Zealot Script Publication.