Congratulations to Nan Wigington, the winner of our ekphrastic Christmas contest! Thank you to everyone who entered. You can read the other selected poems and stories here and here. We are so happy to see so many people getting hooked on ekphrastic. Look for more challenges and contests in the future.
Return from the Woods
Although she's not tired, Gretel stops, drops the reins. The toboggan she has pulled for miles glides over the crust of snow, bumps her calves, knocks loose a dusting of green needles from her shoulders, a cone of gray hair from her cap. She stares at the village, its low slung roofs, the yellow lights that shimmer from this window, that. No smoke billows from any chimney. They haven't changed, still cold, still hungry, still living by dim candlelight. She wonders who might notice her return. The father, the mother could only be dead. But surely someone remembered – Hansel, Gretel, the girl, the boy, their journey into the ravenous wild?
Something black flaps in the church belfry. Crows? A new priest drunk on wine and winter fumbling up the spiral stairs to ring the vespers bell? Did the people pray anymore?
A weight of bread bulges in Gretel's coat pocket, presses against her thigh. She pulls it out, bites into its brown sweetness. It tastes of smoke and ginger, witches and brothers, sin and cinnamon. It sucks at her teeth like sour fruit and jelly. Oh, the village. They would only understand salt and fat, never sugar or skin, incest and lust, witch and boy, boy and girl, girl and woman. It was how they lived, safe and warm in a magic cottage, all appetite and answer, touch and pleasure. These people in those dirty dwellings only knew pain.
They bore so many children for the oven.
“Why are the children the ones we always sacrifice?” Hans had asked once.
“Because they are so delicious and fat?” The witch had answered.
Who grew tired of the dirty kisses first, the squall of birth, the cloying odor of mother's milk? Meat made them all angry. Hans said he was tired of picking out the bones. The witch's spices grew bitter and exotic. Gretel found herself wandering away, never bringing back the mushrooms or the wild strawberries she found.
Hans would not chop the wood anymore. The witch refused to bring in the water, choosing to fill their cups with supernatural wine instead. They all grew gaunt, moral, quick to argue about what was wrong, what was right. Hans succumbed first, his eyes, his mouth wide open as if screaming. The witch died in her bed, a smile on her lips, her sweet wine staining her sheets, her wand tangled in her tresses.
Gretel grieved for awhile, but then she turned a rock into licorice, the river into marzipan. She transformed a bear into a tree trunk, snakes into branches. She stoked the witch's ovens again, but made only nut pies and raisin bread.
Gretel looks at the village again, thinks of turning back. The people will probably throw her in a pit, hang her from a tree, stone her, burn her. Still she wanted to tell them of the house, its impossible arches, its sugar windows, its bitter flavor. She wanted to tell them of its promise and its lie. Yes, God walks its passageways, but the devil walks right beside Him.
Gretel puts the bread back in her pocket. It's no lighter than when she took the first bite. She picks up the reins, wraps them around her shoulders, and trudges on. The wood piled high in the toboggan behind her writhes, kicks like a child waiting to be born.
Nan Wigington lives and works in Colorado's capital city. Her flash fiction has appeared in Pithead Chapel, The Ekphrastic Review, Gordon Square Review, and in After the Pause.
The Ekphrastic Review
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