by Jennifer Moore
One crumb for every four steps they take, only they’re not breadcrumbs any more. Somewhere along the way, in some deeply buried place that neither one of them can recall, the stale crusts inside their pockets have grown moist and sticky, like gingerbread: brown-gold as autumn leaves, fragrant as their stepmother’s chest of spices. There’s a strange magic at work amongst the trees today: the children can feel it misting up their minds; can sense the memories disappearing up in smoke.
Hansel holds tight to those whispered plans through the thin bedroom wall: I mean it, husband. It’s them or me.
Gretel clings to the guilt glistening in their father’s eyes before he cantered away; before the forest swallowed him up. Perhaps he changed his mind, she tells herself. Perhaps he’s searching for them even now. And wasn’t there was something else? she thinks, staring down at her soot-stained fingers.
One crumb for every four steps.
Wasn’t there something else? puzzles Hansel, feeling the full curve of his belly against the straining waistband of his shorts. Something else. Someone else.
When their pockets finally empty they turn and follow the sticky path back the way they came. That must have been the plan all along. Every four steps another gingerbread crumb leading them safely home… leading them somewhere, anyway.
Gingerbread walls glow in the late afternoon sunlight. Polished licorice tiles gleam.
“Welcome children,” says the old woman with the fire-scarred cheeks and singed eyebrows. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Issue #4 Contents
Bed and Breakfast
The Silver Apples of the Moon
C Was for Cat
Jack Campbell, Jr.
Skin, Before and After Packaging
The Turning of the Worm
Brian Douglas Moakley
Jennifer Moore’s short fiction has appeared in numerous publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Guardian, Mslexia, Daily Science Fiction, The First Line and Short Fiction. She is a previous winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and lives in the UK. Find her online at jennifermoore.wordpress.com or on Twitter @JennyWriteMoore.