Hansel was sick and tired of having to babysit his kid sister. Gretel just had to tag along today, didn't she? He'd wanted to go skinny-dipping in the pond in the woods, but fat chance, with her staring at him. Since his dad remarried, his parents were always taking off, leaving him to take care of his five-year old sister. He tried to palm her Gretel off on Mrs. Spratt who lived next door, but she'd gone grocery shopping.
Still fuming, Hansel hadn't been paying attention to where he and Gretel were walking. When he stopped and looked around, he realized that they were lost. He hated to admit it, but he'd gotten the two of them into a fine kettle of fish--and he wished he had one to fry. He was super hungry. He'd given his only sandwich to Gretel, who'd gobbled it down to the last bite. Boy! He should've kept the crusts and spread crumbs on the trail. Then they could have found their way back home.
Night began to fall as Hansel and Gretel trudged down one trail to another. Suddenly, they smelled smoke, and hurried down their dark path until they came into an opening with a small, dumpy cottage set in the middle of it. Smoke curled from the chimney, and there was a light in one window.
Hansel's heart pounded, but not because he was scared: he was relieved. He grabbed Gretel's hand, trotted up to the front door and knocked loudly on it. "Help. We're lost. Let us in."
The door cracked opened, letting out a thin ray of light. At first, all Hansel saw was a long crooked nose and two beady black eyes above it. Then as the door opened wider, he saw the whole face of an old woman in a pointed black hat glaring at him. Gretel had darted behind him when the door open and the woman appear. Now she peeked around her brother.
"What do you want?" The old woman asked.
Hansel stuck out his chin and spoke confidently, though his heart pounded. "Could you give us some food and help us find our way home?" His heart pounded harder. The woman looked like all the fairy tale witches he'd ever read about. Hansel was scared
The old woman cackled and opened the door wide. "Of course, my dears. Come in. You must be cold and tired."
For a fleeting moment, Hansel thought about grabbing Gretel's hand and running away. But then he reasoned, his first impression could be wrong. Maybe he could trust this old woman. Besides, he was too weary and the smell of cooking food made his empty stomach growl.
The old woman drew the children to chairs by the fireplace. A black kettle hung on a hook over the fire. She ladled soup from the kettle into bowls and handed them, with spoons, to the children. They greedily slurped the soup without asking what was in it.
When Hansel had enough and felt stronger, he set his bowl down and glanced around the room. "Do you have a phone, so I could call our parents?"
"No, no. I don't believe in them. I like my quiet . . . my privacy." The old woman sat in her rocking chair, pushing it back and forth with the tip of one black shoe.
Hansel didn't like the way she looked at them: first at Hansel, then at Gretel and then back to him. He eyed the door and wondered if he could make a dash for it. He probably could, but he didn't know if he could drag Gretel with him and get it open before the old woman caught them. Maybe he could get away, but what about his little sis?
"Where are your parents, Dearie?"
"They had to go out. But they should be home by now. They'll be looking for us, you know!"
Hansel put his hand on his sister's arm and stared defiantly at the old woman. Whatever she had in mind for them, it wasn't good. He had already decided in his mind that he'd fight to the end. Tears welled in his eyes and he blinked them back. He didn't know where his parents were or when they were coming home. They'd called out when they left, "We'll be back later. Watch Gretel. We'll bring home some Colonel Sanders chicken."
Hansel's eyes misted over. His parents would be sorry when he and Gretel were nothing but bones in this witch's soup kettle.
The old woman leaned forward and Hansel braced himself. "I hate to do this," she said, and stood up. Hansel thought she looked seven feet tall as she leaned over. She shook her head, and sighed. "I was a social worker far too long not to be able to recognize neglected children when I see them. I'm going to contact Child Protective Services to get help for you. Your parents should be ashamed. And if they're not, some counseling is in order for them.
Hansel's mouth dropped open. "But," he stammered. "You don't have a phone."
"I do have a computer. I just don't like to be bothered by telemarketers. I'll e-mail one of my former coworkers at CPS." The old woman leaned over and patted Hansel on the head. "Don't you worry, Dearie. I'll see that you're taken care of."