PRW Runner-Up Tour: Grimm Consequences by Samantha Redstreak
Slivers of silver dance in the moonlight on the other side of the glass. Would it cover the carnage, I wonder…bury my secrets under a blanket of white, leaving a clean slate of freshly fallen ignorance?
A throat clears behind me, sending my thoughts skittering into the hidden corners of my mind.
I cast a weary glance over my shoulder. Another polizei come to pick at my wounds. “You have my statement. I’ve nothing left to tell.”
“Unsinn! I’ve read the reports. Such a wild imagination,” the man snickers. The slapping of a hand against metal echoes off the sterile walls. “I’ve no interest in fairy tales, rinne ratte.”
A chair screeches a complaint against the stone floor. “I am the Kapitän of Göttingen. You will give me the truth, Greta, or my dogs shall rip it from your throat. Now. Sit!”
I reluctantly pull my body into the chair, numb to his threats. Food and water have been replaced with a steady diet of intimidation. The Decretum is known for its hospitality.
The Kapitän paces the length of my cell, a predator circling its prey. Every click of his boots makes me cringe.
“Start from the beginning—-from the haus in Grimm woods,” he demands, breath heavy with liquor and cruelty.
“We were gathering wood for Papa. We–”
“We? Who else was with you?” Kapitän prods.
“My brother, Hans,” I sigh, tiring of the tale. “We spied Frau Bose sneaking through the forest. We followed her to a small cottage, one deep in the woods.”
“And what did you find there?”
“Behind the cottage was a large garden, overflowing with fruits, herbs, vegetables and grains. We’d never seen so much food.”
“An illegal garden. It is forbidden to grow your own food. You should have reported it to the Decretum immediately,” the Kapitän barks, slamming his fire stick into the table. Sparks of blue light jump from its tip, landing on my arm. I swipe at the place where fire meets flesh. “Did Frau Bose share the spoils?”
“No,” I whisper. Our land was steeped in famine. The food we found would have saved most of our village.
“Tsk, tsk. Your own mother kept it all to herself and let your woodcutter father and you starve. Not very nurturing of her.”
“She wasn’t our mother!” I yell, voice dripping with venom. “Mama died when we were six. Frau Bose was our stepmother–nothing more.” I wouldn’t have survived Mama’s death if it weren’t for Hans. He was the strong one.
“I don’t blame you for hating her. I would have. Reason enough to kill her,” he whispers in my ear.
“I didn’t kill her. I wouldn’t–”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Tell me, what happened after you discovered your stepmother’s treachery?”
“She made us a promise. If we didn’t report the garden, she’d let us have the food. We went back the next day. Inside, we found food piled everywhere. For the first time since we could remember, we were happy.” And we were. Happy. But happiness proved as elusive as freedom.
“Your happily ever after didn’t last long, did it?” the Kapitän purrs, relishing the torment.
I rub at my arm, blood seeping through my sleeves. “We weren’t alone. There was an old, blind woman sitting near the fire. She greeted us with a smile and asked if we’d sit and eat.” Her eyes were haunting clouded marbles.
“And what did you do?” he asks.
“We ate until it was dark.” Never in our lives had we eaten so much. It was a foreign feeling, being full. We were drunk on food and the warmth of a welcoming fire. “We stayed until it was too late to walk home.” Too late to live…
“This is where your little tale gets interesting. According to your report, the old woman, Frau Hexe, tried to, what was it…oh, yes, eat you,” he offers, mocking in his delight. “Was she a witch, intent on adding a bit of child to her chowder?”
I swallow the bile climbing up my throat. “No. She was something much worse.”
Images of the beast she became scatter across the ravaged landscape of my mind. We were asleep near the hearth, dreaming of the treasures we were to bring home. I awoke to a scuffle–a shift in the air. Through eyes heavy with sleep, I witnessed the old woman slip from her skin into that of a monster. The creature’s howl pierced the air, turning my blood to ice. In a blur of hair and teeth, it fell upon us…my screams swallowed by darkness.
“You say your brother, Hans, was the one who killed the old woman. Is this true?”
“Yes. He saved me.” Hans had protected me. When I lay helpless, he tirelessly fought the beast. Like the old woman, the monster was also blind. Hans was able to push it into the large brick oven…but not before it tore a piece from his arm. The jagged mouth opened clear to the bone. We cleaned and wrapped his wound as best we could. When he recovered enough to travel, we filled our sacs with as much as we could carry and returned home.
“Unfortunately, the remains we recovered of Frau Hexe aren’t enough to reveal whether she was a crazy old biddy or savage beastie. I did discover she was the oma of your dear stepmother. It appears she wanted less mouths to feed,” he gloated.
Hans discovered this upon our return. We knew our stepmother wanted us dead. I’ll never forget the shadow of shock that fell upon her face when we walked into our little cottage, sacs bursting with food. She never mentioned the cabin in the woods or the beast that was meant steal our lives. We never spoke of the secret garden to anyone. Even Papa stopped questioning where the food came from. We went back several times, bringing enough food for several families in our village. We stayed clear of the patrolling polizei and ever watchful of the wicked woman in our house.
“You claim it was, Hans, who also killed your stepmother?”
“She tried to kill us, again.”
Hans swore to protect us. He had a plan to rid us of the wicked woman. But Han’s bite from the beast never healed. In a week’s time, he took sick. He fell with a terrible fever, burning to the touch, that covered him in a sheen of sweat. He wouldn’t eat or drink for days. Even sleep slipped through his grasp, his mind plagued with nightmarish visions.
Distraught, Papa called the village doctor, offering food as payment. The doctor said he was cursed…there was nothing he could do.
“We’ve searched your village, and all of Göttingen for Hans. There’s no trace of him. Tell me, Greta, where is the boy?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper.
Days later, he broke into fits of violence, forcing me to bind him to the heavy banister. He still refused to eat, and lunged towards anyone who came near. I would sit with him and read the stories our Mama once told. Tales of gingerbread houses and bread crumb trails, of candied jewels and wicked witches.
I would comfort him with memories of the days before the Decretum. Before they stole our freedom. Before they kept us hungry and hopeless and afraid…before they stole our mother.
“If we don’t find him, you will be charged with the murders of Frau Hexe & your stepmother. The penalty is death.” He relishes this, I can hear it in his words. Even if I knew where Hans was, I wouldn’t tell them. They took my mother. They won’t have him.
“I haven’t seen Hans since that night…” I reply.
Days passed without any relief. Winter laid its claim on the woods, its icy fingers reaching through the cracks of the cottage to wrap around our bones. Any hope I harbored of Hans recovering was lost under a blanket of ice. He grew weaker, and so, he became easy prey.
“What did your stepmother do, Greta? What was the final straw that led to her brutal slaying?” he prompts, tapping his boot against my chair.
Stepmother crept into our room, thinking we were fast asleep. She wielded Papa’s axe, its sharp edge winking in the moonlight, promising a swift end.
“She told us a secret.” I say.
“A secret worth killing over?” he asks with interest.
In the cover of darkness, she surrendered her deepest secret so that we may take it to the grave. We laid so, so still as she towered over us. The words spilled from her lips and stabbed into our heart. She had been the one who alerted the polizei of Mama’s transgressions. She told them our mother was healing the sick, providing illegal care to the wounded. It was her who brought the wrath of the Decretum upon our village.
“Some secrets are worse than others,” I seethe.
Rage raced through our veins, hungry for vengeance. Hans broke free of his bonds and his skin. Before my eyes, he shifted into a fearful beast. He chased our stepmother from the house into the woods. Before she could scream, his claws tore the terrible secret from her throat.
Hans stood in the red stained snow and howled in anguish for the loss of our mother, the loss of innocence…the loss of hope.
“You have a secret, don’t you, Great?” I can feel his piercing stare driving daggers into my back. “Tell me where your brother is.”
I look through the window and watch as floating crystals sizzle into vapor, their beauty burned by an unseen barrier.
“I’m not inclined to share my secrets with the Decretum,” I spit.
He reaches a gloved hand under my chin, forcing my gaze to meet him. “Do not play games with me. The Decretum is begging for another execution.”
His face swims before me. Fear scurries against the cage of my chest. Memories claw their way to the surface.
The sky rains down blood and blue fire. People running, stumbling over bodies. I’m choking on smoke and screams. Mama’s hand slips. Cries tear from my throat. Mama! A polizei stands over her. Crimson rivers spill from her dress onto the soil. My heart splinters.
“You…you killed my mother,” I gasp.
“It’s possible.” He edges closer. “I’ve killed many rinne rattes, including mothers.” His lips spread in an awful grin. “When did your mother meet her maker?”
“Ten years ago. I was six. You raided my village…you shot her in the street…she bled to death in my arms.” I cry, the words strangling what little control I had left.
“Ahh, yes. The healer. Well, you can’t blame me for upholding the law, now can you? And here you are. Like mother, like daughter,” he laughs.
“Hans won’t let you hurt me,” I warn, my skin prickling with a burning heat.
“I’m counting on it. Once he shows up, I’ll have the pleasure of hosting a double execution. Twice the fun, I should think.”
“You’re a monster!” I shout, raising my arm to strike.
The Kapitän catches my blow, his glove slipping on the blood beneath.
“What is this?” He pulls back my sleeve to reveal a barely healed wound, its edges jagged and raised.
“A bite, courtesy of the old woman in Grimm woods,” I smirk.
He tosses my arm aside. “Looks like the bite of an animal–not an old, blind woman.”
Anger slides under my skin, shifting and shaping my fury, whispering of vengeance.
“You want to know where Hans is? He’s here,” I taunt. He is, I can feel his presence.
“Excellent. My guards will have him in custody, momentarily,” he beams, heading for the door.
“He’s here, in this room,” I add.
The Kapitän turns, confusion and suspicion waging a silent battle in his eyes. “Impossible,” he dismisses.
Underneath the metal table, my fingers stretch into claws.
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