Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 14
Once upon a time there lived a poor peasant family. This family was so poor that they couldn’t afford free samples. This family was so poor that their front door and their back door shared a hinge. This family was so poor that ducks threw bread at them. More relevant to this particular story, though, this family was so poor that they had to send their two children, Hans and Greta, out into the woods because there was no food.
This might seem like bad parenting to begin with, but what made it even worse was that these particular woods were well known for being absolutely crammed full of sinister fairytale creatures that ate nothing but children and spoke only in rhyme. But Hans and Greta were both exceedingly clever—as children often are in this sort of story—and so although they found themselves cold, hungry and alone in a hostile forest, they were confident that they would soon make a home for themselves and live happily ever after.
However, innate personal attributes only get you so far without any material resources to back them up, and so by nightfall Hans and Greta were still cold, hungry and alone, but they had managed to dig up a small, hard, wild potato. So that was something.
Suddenly, there was a rustle from nearby, and a ghastly goblin emerged from the undergrowth!
“With mustard seeds and jellied eels, I like to nibble children’s heels!”
Hans and Greta were both very scared. But, as has already been established, they were also very clever.
“Hey, you know what would go great with that?” Greta looked to Hans.
“Potato,” they said in unison.
“We’ve got one,” added Hans, holding it up for the goblin to see, “only we’ve got no way of cooking it.”
The goblin reached into a small pouch on his belt. “Well isn’t this just fine and dandy. I always keep some tinder handy!”
And soon the small, hard potato was roasting in a roaring fire.
Hans and Greta looked at one another. That had bought some time, but the potato would soon be cooked and there was no telling what other horrors might find them even in that short space of time.
Suddenly, there was a rustle from nearby, and an ’orrible orc emerged from the bushes!
“With rabbits’ feet and yellow peas, I like to chew on children’s knees!”
Hans and Greta now were even more scared, but Hans spotted that the orc already had a rabbit hanging from his belt.
“I can’t help but feel that would work a lot better as a stew,” he observed.
“Especially if you’ve only got dried peas,” added Greta. “Unfortunately we’ve got nothing to cook a stew in.”
The orc took off his fearsome spiked helmet, stuck it in the fire and filled it with water. “This ought to take care of that. I’ll cook it in me metal hat!”
So the two children and the two monsters pooled their resources, throwing rabbit and potato and yellow peas and mustard seeds into the pot. They drew the line at jellied eels, though. Those, Greta pointed out, were really more of a side dish.
But still the children were afraid, because even the stew would only take so long to cook, and there was no telling what further horrors might discover them.
Suddenly, there was a rustle from nearby, and a terrible troll emerged from the trees!
“With sprigs of thyme and sauce of orange…” growled the troll.
It stopped and thought for a bit.
“Shut up! I eat children!” it roared, after an uncomfortably long pause.
“Oh, hey,” said Greta. “If you like children with thyme and orange, you know what you should try?”
“Oi!” The goblin leaned over. “Don’t let the troll mess with your food! He doesn’t hand-wash when he’s—”
“Orc and goblin with thyme and orange,” said Hans.
“What!?!” said the orc.
“They’re basically like bigger, scalier children,” agreed Greta.
“And they’re gluten free,” Hans put in.
The orc and the goblin looked at each other, stood up, and ran away. Or they would have done if the troll hadn’t caught each one in a great, grimy hand and smashed their heads together.
“With blood of red and bruise of purple…” the troll stopped and thought again. “Alright, forget the rhyming. What do I do with these guys?”
“You’ll want to roast them,” said Greta.
“Get that orc meat good and tender,” offered Hans.
“With a nice crispy skin,” they both said together.
So they built up a nice big fire for the troll, nice and far away from the one they were using to cook their stew, and once he had placed the carcasses over the flames, they began to wait.
Suddenly, there was a rustle from nearby, and a different goblin emerged from the undergrowth.
“With salt of white and pepper grey, I like to…” he caught sight of the troll, slowly turning the first goblin on a spit. “…I like to slowly back away.”
The orc was very large and the goblin was especially tough, so they took a very long time indeed. Every now and again the troll would ask: “Are they done yet?” And Hans or Greta would say: “Oh, no, nowhere near done.” It got awkward because they had to keep saying it long after the orc and the goblin were obviously blackened and smoking, but the troll didn’t know any better and at least the smell kept the other monsters at bay.
Eventually, the sun came up, the troll turned to stone, and Hans and Greta walked home with their stew (and jellied eels).
“Mother, Father!” they cried. “Your children have returned and bring food with them!”
“Well, that’s great,” said their mother, “but that’s barely anything. We’ll have to send you back to the forest again tonight.”
Hans and Greta looked at each other.
“Well,” said Greta, “it’ll be a bit burnt but I’m sure we can sort something else.”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.