Date Published: September 5, 2017
Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better.
Years later, Rapunzel’s guards knock at his door, and they say the words he hoped that he would never hear: Gothel has escaped. As he and Gretel take refuge inside Rapunzel’s castle in the eastern capitol of Hildebrand, Hansel is thrust back into everything he never wanted in the first place: his lies, his legend, and his lust. In the wake of it all, he knows that Gothel has escaped to finish what she started. She is out to make sure that the Sleeping Beauty never wakes, and that Grimm suffocates under her blanket of thorn and vine. In order to find Gothel and save the kingdom, Hansel and Gretel must look for fact in a land of fairy-tale by following a trail of grisly murders, a girl in a red cape, and a powerful little man who can’t stand the sound of his own name.
As they search for answers, Hansel finds that he isn’t the only liar in Grimm, and that there may be a traitor among them of royal proportion.
The winter storm began with a scream that split the trees. It echoed throughout the woods and birds fled into the sky, disappearing like smoke behind gray clouds. Hansel looked off in the direction of the disturbance—but it was silent again. There was something menacing about the renewed absence of life that hung over him. He strung his bow, keeping it close to his side, and surveyed the area around him. He was met only with the familiar stillness of the trees and dead foliage beneath.
“We should go,” he said, trying to disguise the urgency in his voice.
His sister, Gretel, hesitated. “Someone screamed.”
“I know,” he said. “That’s why we need to go.”
Gretel scanned the tree line and ran her fingers through her hair. Grabbing her hand, Hansel pulled her in the direction they’d come from. The woods were dangerous, especially on the cusp of winter. They were close to the Southern Thickets—the part of the forest overrun with briar and weed, where all of Grimm’s most dangerous creatures lived—and Hansel knew that if someone was screaming, they had a good reason.
They made their way back to The Path in silence. Hansel was wary of crunching leaves under his boot, afraid to wake the forest. Seconds after they turned around, he felt something whiz past him on both sides of his head. He hoped they were fireflies, bustling about the tops of trees, cutting through the coldness that crept over them. He followed the sparkling speckles with his eyes. They moved with purpose, cracking branches and creasing clouds, spinning wildly. Hansel was probably the only person in Grimm who was ever disappointed to see a flock of fairies, but fireflies meant it was summer, and he longed to see summer again.
Before they blinked out of sight, they spoke to him. Tens of wistful, unison whispers in his ears said: Help…the girl needs help. Hansel looked at Gretel, wondering if she heard them, too. He didn’t have to ask. She bounded back in the opposite direction and drew the skinning knife she kept sheathed at her waist. Hansel cursed, taking off after her. No sooner than he’d kicked off the ground, another mortifying scream shook the woods. He followed close behind Gretel, dodging trees and leaping over the underbrush. There was a third scream, and then a fourth; louder and closer than any before.
He didn’t know what to do. As they ran, the woods shrank around them until the sun no longer broke through the gaps between the trees. Hansel knew they were going to die. No one made it deep into the thickets and lived. It was home to godless monsters; giants, goblins—the creatures of the dark who scarcely bothered with humans, until they were crossed. Hansel struggled to keep up with his sister. Where he was cautious, she was fearless, and where she was cautious, he was safest. He looked up and was surprised to see hundreds of fairies lighting their path. Each second, more poured in from the sky until there was an army over them.
Gretel stopped abruptly, causing Hansel to trip and roll a few steps downhill. He didn’t think long enough to register pain. As he found his footing, Gretel climbed down the incline and stood beside him. His first instinct was to go back the way they’d come, but he was awestruck. They stood on the threshold of life and death, where the woods became the Southern Thickets. It was like a scar across the ground, stretching from one end of the world to the next, a final warning to those brave enough to pass into the curse. Even the fairies were still, their glow dimmed by the wicked magic ahead.
Hansel was relieved to see that there were no longer trees; they’d been replaced by a wall of bramble, too large and thick to allow passage. They were surrounded by the purplish-blue tint of twilight, thorns as sharp as daggers to their throats in front of them and crooked, mossy trees behind them. Once, when Hansel lived in the city, he’d visited his parents’ corpses in the graveyard. They were buried in a public sepulcher maintained by the city to ensure that if a family was unwilling or unable to buy a plot for their deceased, their corpses wouldn’t be left to rot and attract the attention of wildlife. Standing just before the thickets reminded Hansel of that day—the day when he stood at the maw of death and was so close he could feel himself slipping away.
Gretel looked behind them. Hansel hoped she’d given up, and maybe she had. He almost smiled. But one final, thankless cry echoed past the briar, stirring the fairies. Gretel squinted, determined. That scream, Hansel knew, was the epitaph on their gravestones. The fairies swarmed them, and he was swallowed in a rainbow of color, cascading like a waterfall upon him. He couldn’t see anything but the swirling light of the fairy flock, spinning faster and faster around him, tugging at his shirt and creating a whirlwind. He felt weightless. His stomach churned and he felt dizzy. When the fairies cleared, he could see why—he was high in the air, flying over the Southern Thickets.
For a moment, he forgot about the screams and that he was headed into danger. He was soaring. Gretel was flying just below him, her arms spread wide, her hair flailing. Seeing Grimm from the air was both breathtaking and appalling. He expected to see the land as it once was, alive and vibrant. Instead, it was a sickly beige with winter and the end of the curse. The world around them was devoid of life. Most of the animals had fled years earlier, knowing the world was about to change, and those that remained were tucked safely away somewhere beneath them.
The thickets looked exactly as he’d always imagined. From above, he saw nothing but briar and bramble etched across the uneven terrain. They gained speed, and the cold air blasted his cheeks. He was grateful to have the cold in that moment to waken his senses and remind him that he was still alive, that he and Gretel were in danger. He sucked in a breath as they flew farther away from home, and against the still-setting sun that formed the silhouette of a castle, jagged and broken. The Sleeping Castle—he knew it from legend—the home where the rightful royalty of Grimm still rested, dead to the world but not in definition, suffering eternally at the hands of a vengeful witch. All he could make out was one tower, freed from the clutches of the thorn like the arm of an old beggar, trying to hoist himself out of the darkness. The top of the tower stuck at a point against the sunlight like a bony finger fighting for liberation.
It felt like they were flying only moments before he felt himself descending. Hansel looked below. There was a tiny clearing in the briar—a hole in the patchwork—and inside that hole he saw a spot of red. His eyes widened when he realized what was happening; it was a little girl, and she was running for her life. Sooner than he anticipated, the fairies dropped him and he fell into the clearing. They placed Gretel gracefully on the ground next to him and charged back up into the sky in one harmonious motion, disappearing into the briar. The girl stared at them in wonder, Hansel standing close to Gretel. It was suddenly dark, and Hansel knew it was because they were in a place so sinister that even the sunlight refused to pass through. The girl Hansel had seen from the sky was covered in bloody scratches, as if she’d been running through the thorns. Her face was dirty and streaked in muddy tears. She tried to speak to them, but she was silenced by the rustling of the vines behind her.
She yelped, running to them for help. Gretel took her in her arms and cupped her hand over her mouth, quieting her. Hansel trembled, pulling the bowstring back so far he worried it would snap. The figure of a large man appeared on the other side of the curtain of briar, causing the girl to cry harder. He made his best attempt to look imposing, but he was frightened. The man stepped into the clearing, dressed all in black, his hood casting a shadow over his face so that all Hansel could see was a pair of dull, white eyes. At first, Hansel thought the red-orange coating on the figure’s machete was rust, but as the man moved closer, he recognized it as the color of dried blood.
“Who are you?” Hansel asked.
It was like standing in front of death itself—silent, ominous, and terrifying.
Hansel stood rigid, his arrow pointed at the man’s chest. He hated the idea of killing someone, but he knew that his bow would take action before his head did if it was given the opportunity. The man’s chest rose, fell, but didn’t rise again. That was when Hansel knew it was time to let go of the string. It was too late. The hooded figure leaped out of the way just before the arrow left the bow, and as Hansel went to re-string it, he disappeared back into the thickets. Hansel stretched his bow into a V and focused his aim, in case the man returned.
Gretel helped the girl to her feet. “Are you all right?”
She wore a bright cloak that canvassed her body like a suit of armor, bright yet all-concealing. Hansel didn’t know what to make of her. She embodied adolescence, but exuded effortless maturity as if at war with herself. Wine and wildflowers protruded from her basket, peeking surreptitiously back at him. She was a walking contradiction, and that made him anxious.
“I think so,” the girl replied, using her cloak, which was made of some sort of fabric that Hansel couldn’t name but knew was expensive, to wipe her face. “Thank you for saving me.”
“Who was that man?” Hansel asked.
The girl hesitated. She stepped beside Hansel and followed his gaze out into the thickets.
“He was no man,” she said. “He was a wolf.”
“A wolf?” Hansel asked.
She nodded. “He walks like a man, but he’s a wolf, I swear to it. He tackled me back there and started sniffing me and snarling like a beast. His breath smells like dung and whiskey. It frightened me, so I ran off.”
Hansel and Gretel exchanged looks. Gretel furrowed her brows, dumbstruck.
“But why did he come after you?” Gretel asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Hansel asked. “How do you not know? Do you find you’re often being chased by hooded man-wolves, or is today a special day?”
The girl seemed put off by the question. “Do you normally fly with the fairies?”
“Of course not,” Hansel said.
“So today must be special for all of us,” she said, slyly.
Gretel broke the tension. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Ceara,” the girl replied with a smile that soured Hansel’s mood. She spoke to no one in particular. “But some people call me Little Red Cap because of my cape. It’s made of the finest silk in the East.” She offered the tail of her cape to them.
Gretel reached her hand out and felt the fabric, rubbing it between her fingers. “It’s lovely,” she mumbled.
“My gran made it for me when I was younger. I was always running about in the woods and she worried I would get lost. That’s why the cape is red…I’m easier to spot that way.”
Hansel dropped the bow to his side. It just so happened that he and Gretel knew quite a bit about being lost in the woods.
“Do you know how to get back to The Path from here?” he asked Ceara.
The Path was the clearest, safest route through the woods. It was a trail worn in the grass by the boots of travelers and kings alike; a clear, oppressive force that divided Grimm into four regions. The Path was the safest, most direct route to any place in the entire kingdom.
Ceara’s smile faded. She wiped the tears from her face, using her cloak to remove the dirt from her cheeks. “Of course I do,” she said, gesturing toward the vines. “It’s just a few steps this way.”
“You mean through the thorns?” Hansel asked.
She rolled her eyes. “Unless you plan on asking the fairies for another lift, there’s really no other way.”
“I thought it was impossible to pass through the thickets.” As he spoke, he stared at the thorns. He imagined slicing his leg open, or accidentally impaling himself. He squirmed.
Ceara giggled at him. “Just because the whole kingdom says it’s impossible, doesn’t mean it is.”
Gretel laughed at him as well, shrugging as she passed him. Ceara parted the vines carefully and let Gretel pass through. After Gretel disappeared into the thickets, Ceara held the vines apart for him. “Go on.”
Right then, Hansel knew he wasn’t going to like Ceara.
About the Author
Weston Sullivan lives and writes in Tampa, Florida. He spends his days splitting time between writing, a full time job, and studying for his degree in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida. He enjoys everything related to storytelling, including film and theater. He likes to read all genres, from contemporary fiction to classic favorites such as Faulkner and Woolf. After he finishes his undergraduate coursework and continues to build his career as an author, he plans to attend graduate school in New York City.