The Magical Gingerbread House
The Gingerbread house came in the mail, already put together, and big – about one foot long on each side, and a full foot high. There was no card saying who it was from. At first Mom thought it was sent by her sister-in-law, for a surprise, and then maybe from an old college friend, but both denied sending it. But we kept it, even if it was a mystery, because it was the most splendid Gingerbread House for Christmas you can imagine.
It was completely frosted over, with roof shingles in great swirls of chocolate frosting, and a chimney of caramel bricks. The house was on a kind of tray, and surrounded with a complete yard. Flowers with gum-drop petals were carved for a marzipan windowbox for each window, and each window and doorway had stick-candy frames and a slabs of milk-chocolate for the actual window shutters and doors. A path of rock candy led from the front door, all the way around the house to a strange kind of structure in the back, sort of like a rabbit hutch or cage, made out of tough ropes of black licorice. “Isn’t that charming,” said Mom. “Even a little home for the rabbits.” And she placed the house in the middle of the big kitchen table, where we eat except when there’s company, as a centerpiece.
Two days later, as we were eating breakfast before school, and Mom was grabbing some coffee before work, we saw the witch who lived in the Gingerbread house. She was only about an inch high, all dressed in black, and she’d just opened the front door of the Gingerbread house and stepped out. My sister screamed, and I knocked my cheerios on the floor. “There’s a little teeny ugly person living in the house!” I screamed at Mom. “I don’t see a thing,” she said, staring at the house.
The witch looked up at us, not seeming to see us, and walked around her Gingerbread house, pushing the frosting back into place and dusting the gum drops. “She’s right there!” I shouted, pointing. Mom looked right at the witch, blankly. “I just don’t see anything but the house,” she said. “It’s a good joke, but we’ve got to go to school.” It was then that my sister and I realized that we would have to take responsibility for getting rid of the witch ourselves.
Not until the bus ride home did I realize how enormous that responsibility could be. “Listen,” I told my sister, “What if it’s the witch who captures Hansel and Gretel.” Her eyes got enormous. “We have to warn them,” she said. So on the bus, we both made signs on notebook paper – “WARNING: WITCH INSIDE HOUSE!” and “WITCH EATS KIDS.” Then we taped them onto the table on each side of the gingerbread house. I also tried to squish the witch, using a flyswatter, but as soon as I brought it down, she’d be somewhere else in the frosting yard. Mom figured we were just pretending, and left the signs taped to the table.
But it did no good. The next morning, when we came down, a tiny boy, not much over half an inch, was trapped inside the licorice cage behind the house. And a tiny girl was carrying logs of bitter-sweet chocolate wood, from the chocolate wood pile, to the house, and the ugly little witch poked at both of them with a piece of stick candy. “We’re too late,” my sister sighed tragically, but I told her we’d wait and see what happened. Maybe the kids would survive okay on their own, like in the fairytale.
Each morning at breakfast at the table, we looked to see if Gretel had killed the witch and freed Hansel. And every day, Hansel was still there in the cage. When we tried to open the cage to let him out, he would disappear – and as soon as we put it down in the yard again, there he was, trapped back inside. My sister and I tried yelling at Gretel to kill the witch, but she didn’t seem to hear us. Then I got an idea. “We can’t reach them,” I told my sister. “But we can send them a message. It just has to be in the world of the witch’s house, not our house.”
So I got a toothpick and carved letters in the snow frosting on the little yard, right where Gretel had to go to get the chocolate wood logs for the witch’s fire. P-U-S-H, I wrote, “Witch In Oven.” Then we went off to school, hoping for the best.
We got home from school just as Mom was coming in the door. The most awful smell of burning filled the whole house, sort of like coal and tires burning, only worse. The kitchen still had a haze of smoke in it, but even though we looked carefully everywhere, nothing seemed to be on fire. Except, of course, the chimney of the Gingerbread house, which still had a wisp of smoke coming out. The licorice cage was open and empty, and the house seemed to be deserted, and missing several gum drops off the sides.
“I hope it worked,” I told my sister, anxiously. But she just smiled, and pointed to the chocolate frosting on the roof of the house. Someone had climbed up and carved a message in the frosting, in neat print letters. My sister read it aloud: “Thanks for the tip. Love, Gretel.”
We never did find out who had sent the magical Gingerbread house. But sometimes I wondered where Hansel and Gretel had gone – were they living in the woodwork like mice, hidden away beneath the floorboards, happily ever after?