The Great Gretel
I once had a genie that could make my wildest dreams come true. If I had that genie in the real world I’m not sure what I would wish for. Most seventeen year-olds would ask to be rich, famous, or at least hot enough to bang a celebrity. Some may even ask to go to college for free. Ultimately, they’d want the easy life.
But what do I want? That’s the real question.
Part of me wants a normal life; a life without Die Bibliothek and all the Fairy Tale characters I’m supposed to be saving. I want a life where my family isn’t under a spell to keep them from noticing my occasional disappearances. In this life we would all get along.
Granted, I would be bored out of my mind if I didn’t live the life I have. Life would be so dull and normal. Plus, who knows what shape my relationships with Conrad and Fawn would be without it.
Speaking of Fawn and Conrad, they’re not here right now.
Where are they? Long story short, I didn’t necessarily decide to enter this Tale as per usual in Die Bibliothek. Rather, I was laying in bed the other day and the next thing I knew I was in a Fairy Tale…
For those that don’t know this, my job is to go into Fairy Tales and correct the corrupted material in them. To do this, I must venture to the town of Die Bibliothek and find the talisman that lines up with the story… It’s a tad hard to explain.
In the current Fairy Tale, I’m living with a Baker who kidnapped me as a child due to my ability to make all my dreams literally come true. Awhile back he had me wish myself a wife but gave her the orders to end my life. To my relief, she couldn’t bring herself to do it and is helping me get back at the Baker. At the moment we’re waiting for him to return from hunting so we can− well− you’ll see.
It’s a little weird being in a Tale without Fawn and Conrad. Yes, Conrad and I haven’t been on good terms since I pushed our enemies, Seth and Rebecca, into Hell, but it could be worse. In my defense, they’re Evil and are trying to end our lives. He keeps claiming that Rebecca isn’t that bad, but I don’t see how I was supposed to know that.
I just wish he would stop being angry at me. It’s been almost four months since everything went down and he knows as well as I do that Kismet is going to raise them from Hell any day now. They’ll be okay.
But no, he’s too damn stubborn to let me off the hook.
I respect stubbornness usually, but right now it’s just annoying.
Speaking of Kismet, she’s still the embodiment of Fate and still a psycho. The mental connection she weaved between us hasn’t faded, and I’ve actually gotten used to it. Sometimes it’s nice having someone to talk to all the time. Plus, she knows everything about me which has just as many perks as it does flaws. I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine why.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention the strangest addition to my friend group: good ol’ Todd.
He continues to be our only ally and the snarkiest human-Aspect-fox-trickster-thing I’ve ever met. He’s around all the time these days and helps us find the correct talismans when we need them. He’s like our own personal telemarketer. Even though it’s been quiet these last three months I appreciate his help. I wish we had more magical Fairy Tale Aspects on our side, but he’ll suffice. For now.
That’s a subject to get into later, though. I need to focus. It’s not every day that you pretend to be dead aided by the woman who was supposed to marry and kill you. That sort of stuff is important.
Through the thin sheet over my head, I watch my betrothed rush to the door. She glances back at me once and whispers, “He’s coming.” She has barely gotten the last syllable out before the door swings open and a giant man walks in. He glances in my direction.
“Where’s the heart and tongue of the boy?” The Baker asks while studying me.
My betrothed is reaching for the decoy plate, but I beat her to the punch.
Springing to my feet, I look at the Baker with mouth wide open. “You did intend to kill me!” I gasp out. “I had hoped my betrothed had been deceiving me, but I see now that you are a wicked man!”
The Baker shakes his head, turning pale. “Forgive me, your highness. This has all been a mis−”
“Your highness? You mean I am not only a hostage but also royalty?”
The Baker’s eyes drop to the floor. “Y-Yes,” he stutters. “I stole you from your mother when you were born and framed her for your death. You are the King’s son and I’m greatly sorry for what I have done. You must forgive me.” “I don’t have to do anything for you,” I growl. I shake my head at him. “I suppose the only thing left to do is wish for you to become−”
Don’t drag things out, Gabe. You need to get out of the Tale.
Oh, there’s Kismet! I was just beginning to wonder where she was. I missed her− NOT! Ugh. Can’t she ever just contact me to talk about the weather or something simple like that? Why does she only ever care about horrible things?
Oh wait. She’s Fate. She can’t necessarily ‘let loose’. She’s also kind of the head honcho in the Aspect World so I guess I shouldn’t be begging her to forget her duties.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to care about what she said, though. I don’t trust her. I’m ignoring her.
Focusing back on the story, I say, “I wish for you, Baker, to become a Chihuahua.”
I’m smiling as the rotund man becomes a tiny puppy. The dog yaps at me, but I look to my betrothed.
“Hand me that rope,” I say, pointing.
Kismet pops into my head as I’m finishing my leash. She sounds like she’s trying to refrain from marching over here and strangling me. That’d be interesting.
Gabe, listen to me, she pleads. Fawn is in trouble. She needs you and Conrad does too. Don’t let them get hurt because you’re too stubborn to listen to me, idiot!
Was the insult really necessary?
I run my hands through my hair and sigh. Against my better judgment, I respond to Kismet by asking, How much trouble are they in? Surely Conrad can handle it.
Stop fooling yourself, she barks. Conrad can’t do the things you do.
Conrad is just as capable of making sarcastic comments, I say, but she doesn’t seem to appreciate my humor. A hiss resonates from the part of my mind where she resides, and I can’t help rolling my eyes. No one ever takes the time to appreciate a good joke these days.
“Come along,” I say aloud at last. I tug the dog after me, nodding in my betrothed’s direction. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
Fawn sat alone in the cabin of a blood thirsty Witch. She and her younger brother, Conrad, were in the tale of Hansel and Gretel. Conrad was locked in a shed in the yard and the Witch had stepped out to see if he had gained any weight.
The siblings weren’t having much luck correcting the Tale. Gabe had disappeared without a trace and Conrad was trying to convince Fawn they didn’t need him to complete a Tale. That’s why they had entered Hansel and Gretel. So far everything that could go wrong had, and the Witch was preparing to eat Conrad.
She burst through the door then and threw a knife down into the wooden floorboards.
“Your brother is no larger!” she growled in Fawn’s direction.
Fawn perked up. “Then you can’t cook him yet, right?”
The Witch didn’t answer. Instead she pointed to a bucket in the corner, “Boil some water.”
Fawn didn’t like that the Witch had avoided her question, but she saw no point in prying for an answer. Instead she said, “What if I don’t?”
The Witch only smiled.
Fawn said, “I’ll boil the water if you let me see my brother. All I’m asking for is five minutes…”
The Witch didn’t ponder it long. Rather her smile stretched further across her face as she said, “You want to see your brother, eh?”
Fawn nodded, her stomach churning.
Now the Witch winked at Fawn. The sight almost frightened Fawn more than her next words: “Then you can join your brother.”
Grabbing Fawn’s wrist, the Witch tugged her out into the yard and to the small shed. After unlocking the door with a massive key, the Witch shoved Fawn into darkness. She staggered and collapsed into her brother as she heard the Witch say, “If you wish to be with your brother, then you can both be my dinner.” The Witch slammed the door shut, locked it, and left the siblings in the dark.
“What happened?” Conrad demanded as soon as they sensed she was gone.
Fawn was staring blankly ahead. “I really don’t know,” she admitted. “I just wanted to talk to you. I was hoping I could strike a deal with her, you know?”
“It’s okay. We’ll figure something out,” Conrad promised optimistically. In the dark she heard him crack his knuckles and she rolled her eyes.
“No,” she said. “We need Gabe.”
She could just barely make out his face in the dark but she saw it morph into one of disgust. He said, “No we don’t! We’ve got this.”
“We certainly do not ‘got this!’ Stop pretending we can win these Tales without Gabe.”
“But we can. We just haven’t had the chance to try until now.”
“And do you really think this is going well?” Fawn asked. She gestured widely around their prison.
He paused and then shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. He’s unavailable right now.”
“You know,” she said, “you really need to get over your anger. Gabe has been desperately trying to fix things with you and you’re not making it easy… Actually, you’re being a really big jerk about the whole ordeal.”
“It’s not supposed to be easy! He was a d-bag.”
Fawn meant to continue the familiar argument, but couldn’t find it in her this time. She didn’t have the patience.
All I had to do was drop the Chihuahua off at the kingdom, free my mother, say, “I want to marry this girl,” and I’m back in the real world.
After being gone for what feels like a century, it’s a relief to be standing in Die Bibliothek again. The decrepit town looks exactly the same as it did when we first found it. The fall weather only added some much needed color and a welcome breeze to alleviate my nerves.
The nerves, I should explain, are due to fear of what trouble Fawn and Conrad are in now. Conrad is a very stubborn and rash person. Leave him alone for five minutes and if there’s any trouble in a ten mile radius, it will find him. That or he’ll be the one creating it.
After hanging out with us the last four months, Todd must have realized this too because seconds after appearing back in the real world, he’s running up to me. He’s in his usual shorts and t-shirt ensemble, in total disregard to the snow beginning to fall. His red hair is longer than it was when we first met so it obscures the gold tint of his eyes.
“Kismet sent me,” he says. He grabs my arm and begins pulling me the direction his nose is pointed. “Conrad and Fawn are in Hansel and Gretel, and, if I’m being honest, it’s a bit of a doosey. We have to hurry.”
We both break into a run and he leads me to a decrepit bakery near the entrance of Die Bibliothek. He ducks through the doorway and points to a stone oven. I don’t hesitate to rush forward and place my hands on the rain smoothed pile of stones.
As we’re catapulted into the story Kismet speaks in my mind.
Gabe, you need to be careful, she says. You’re coming in as a non-existent character. If you mess anything up, you could end up losing the story to Evil. Don’t pull any of your usual crap.
I nod, ignoring the comment at the end. My feet hit dirt and my ears pop. I look around for Todd only to find him at my side as a fox. He points one white paw ahead and I follow his gaze to a cottage completely made of candy.
Wow, I hate myself for making that joke.
A fist hammering on the door startled the Tailor siblings from their silent reveries. Fawn was on her feet in seconds, looking around for anything she could use to combat the Witch. The door flew open and there she was, outlined by bright, early morning light. It was this same light that Fawn had to shield her sensitive eyes from.
“Time for dinner,” the Witch said. She grabbed an arm of each sibling to tow them out of the shack and back towards the candy cabin.
The two fought with all their strength but even their combined effort wasn’t enough. They were dragged into the cabin and Fawn was hastily tied to a chair. The witch didn’t release Conrad and instead brought him towards the massive stone oven in the corner.
“Wait!” Fawn yelled, squirming in her chair. “Take me and let him go.”
Fawn continued to strain against the rope binding her to the chair and discovered that it would be much harder than she imagined to escape. She tried chafing the ropes on the edge of the chair, but the Witch was moving too fast. There wasn’t enough time for Fawn to break free and the witch was blatantly ignoring her.
Conrad, all the while, was kicking and squirming every which way. He was able to break free of the Witch’s grasp once but didn’t get far before she grabbed hold of him again. She slapped him hard once and he crumpled in a dazed stupor.
“Get up!” Fawn screamed, but then the door flew open. Everyone looked towards the door to discover Todd and Gabe rushing in. Gabe looked to Fawn, flashing a crooked grin. Fawn thought she might faint from relief.
Gabe nudged Todd with his foot and said, “We’re just in time for dinner, Todd!”
Fawn shook her head, eyes cast toward the heavens.
The Witch wasn’t surprised. She turned away from the intruders and grabbed Conrad again. She was just beginning to push him into the oven when he bit into her free hand like an animal. She released him, and he jumped away from her flailing arms. He went to push the Witch into the oven, and his efforts were doubled by Gabe.
With both of their strengths combined, they were able to shove the witch deep into the oven and slam the door shut.
Fawn was just breathing a sigh of relief when they appeared back on Die Bibliothek soil.
Still trying to catch my breath, I turn to Conrad and grin like the Cheshire Cat. “That was great,” I say. I hold a hand out to him, but he turns away from me and crouches beside his sister.
“Are you okay?” he asks her. She’s glaring at him, her blue eyes narrowed to slits. After an awkward moment Conrad says, “What?”
She opens her mouth, but then snaps it shuts and simply turns away. She dusts the dirt from her jeans and stands, turning to leave. It’s then that a pain shoots through my head. I feel like I’ve been hit by lightning and my brain is turning to mush. When I call out, Fawn stops in her tracks, whirling on her heels to face me.
I sink to the ground and squeeze my eyes shut. I’ve never felt anything like this. It’s like someone’s cracking my skull open with a sledgehammer.
The pain is coming from mental strain on Kismet. Since we’re connected, we share a lot of emotions and feelings. It’s not uncommon for us to unexpectedly run into each other in public, say the same thing, or voice an opinion that isn’t ours. It’s even more common for us to share our pains and strengths. Yes, weird, but necessary.
So, although I’m not entirely sure what Kismet is doing, I force some of my strength into her. You may be confused on why I’m doing this. As most people know, I don’t trust Kismet. At all. Ever. Like, seriously. I don’t trust her to baby set my pet cactus, much less this.
But that doesn’t mean I want her to die. She has offered me her strength before so the least I can do is offer some of mine. As I do force energy into her, the usual fog between our minds begins to clear, and that’s when I realize what I just aided.
“She’s doing it,” I mumble almost inaudibly. My eyes spring open and a little louder I manage to say, “Kismet’s doing it.” I try to pull back the reins on my energy, but I don’t succeed. I can already feel the drowsiness starting to set in.
Off to my left Conrad says, “She’s doing it, or she’s doing it?”
Ignoring the pain in my head a moment, I turn to look at Conrad. Fawn and Todd are also staring.
“You know,” I say, blinking back questionable moisture in my eyes. “You just emphasized those exactly the same way.”
He shrugs at me. “Well a little more detail on your end would have been nice, too. It’s not necessary to drop to the ground ever time you get a headache.”
For a moment my vision blurs.
I can’t punch him.
Well, I can.
I settle for flipping him the bird and struggling to my feet. Fawn reaches to steady me, but I wave her off.
Once on my feet, I look directly at a now human Todd and say, “Kismet is bringing Rebecca and Seth back from Hell.”
“What?” Fawn and Conrad say at once. Todd doesn’t look surprised or pleased.
I can’t describe how I know this is happening. As I said, when we share our strengths the one-way glass between our minds seems to dissolve and I finally glimpse some of her thoughts. It’s like wiping off a foggy windshield. The glass is clear for a second but chances are it will fog back up in a couple seconds.
Right now Kismet is thinking how upset she knows I’m going to be. It’s a little nauseating listening to her listening to me like some massive confusing circle of thought, but it’s worth it to understand her. No one really knows the extent of Kismet’s powers −not even her probably– but she can do some pretty insane things. For example, she can bring back the embodiments of Evil in human form from hell.
Seth and Rebecca, just like the Tailors and I, are human Aspects. Contrary to how we work to correct corrupted Tales, they work to corrupt the correct ones. We’ve only really met a couple of times, but during those meetings I discovered that the oldest of the sibling pair, Seth, is not a nice guy. His sister, according to Conrad, is a pretty cool cat, but not Seth. Seth is Evil down to the bone and getting on the wrong side of him could be very bad. Well, that’s my opinion at least.
Lucky for us, we’re literally on the wrong side.
Can you taste the sarcasm? Speak of the Devil (not literally because I’ve met the Devil and he’s much nicer), Seth is now standing before me. Rebecca is at his side, but she looks haunted. Her eyes drift to Conrad, but then keep drifting until she’s staring at nothing… I guess that’s what Hell does to someone. And why were they in Hell, you ask? Let’s just say I made a mutual friend of a Phoenix and scored those two first class tickets to Hell.
Honestly, who knows what these two are feeling right now. Rebecca looks dazed, but Seth looks even more menacing than before. He must have picked up some evil pointers from Lucifer. I’ll admit it’s pretty spooky. I’m sure if I had water in my system, I would have peed my pants by now.
Meanwhile, good ol’ Todd just leaves us there! He gives me a loaded look, jabs a thumb over his shoulder and then walks away. He’s probably late for a haircut or something. That would explain the mop on his head.
“Well,” I mumble looking back to Seth. “How was Hell?”
“Wish you could have been there to see it,” Seth says. He flashes me his teeth briefly like a shark prepping to kill an innocent baby seal.
I’m the innocent baby seal.
And I’m a panicked innocent baby seal.
I hadn’t prepared at all for their return. I sort of forgot they would be returning at all. It has been a long four months.
In an effort to appear fearless, I say, “Too bad you couldn’t have stayed longer, Seth.” Can you guess that I’m mentally flipping Kismet off? Because I am. With two fingers and two toes. I’m a talented guy.
Alas, Seth just shrugs.
Conrad steps up then, arms crossed over his chest. He looks just as annoyed as I feel. “What do you want?” he says.
Seth dawdles a bit, stooping to pick up an orange leaf and hold it up to the sun. As he studies his specimen, he says, “I just wanted to check up on you guys and make sure you know we’re back.”
I rub my temple. “Oh, yeah. I know. I’m sure you actually wanted to come here and show off the tricks you learned from the Devil.”
He merely glances at me before tossing the leaf to the ground and standing up straighter. He eyes each of us in turn, his gaze lingering a moment longer on Conrad.
Wonder what that could mean.
I direct my thoughts to the part of my brain where Kismet resides. Kis, I say. Why are they actually here?
I focus on her through my headache, but she never responds. I can hardly even sense her anymore which surely isn’t good.
“Can we go?”
I turn to look at the speaker of the comment: Fawn. She shrugs at me before turning back to Seth. “Is it really necessary for all of us to stand in the cold so you and Gabe can have a testosterone battle?”
Did she really… Testosterone battle? Fawn!
Seth’s face lights up as he studies Fawn as if for the first time. He steps closer until he’s towering over her. I draw my sword, but Fawn shoots me a glance and I freeze in place.
“Of course. You’re right,” Seth says. He reaches for her hand and places a kiss on her knuckles, casting me a glance all the while. After a moment he nods his head in Rebecca’s direction. “Ready?”
She doesn’t say anything. Instead she’s looking at Conrad. She shakes her head at him, eyes wide.
What’s happening? I ask Kismet again.
There’s a pause and then one word: run.
No need to tell me twice.
Stooping, I pick up a rock and throw it right at Seth’s face. While he’s distracted by a projectile to the eye, I grab Fawn around the waist and wave Conrad after us, breaking into a sprint.
“What’s happening?” Conrad yells as he races after Fawn and I.
“It’s a trick,” I say as I push us even faster along.
We’re too slow.
We haven’t gotten far when Seth tackles Conrad. I’d been so focused on getting Fawn out of there that I hadn’t noticed how far back Conrad had been. Too late, I spin to try and help, but trip on Fawn’s ankle and we both hit the ground.
Conrad and Seth are wrestling, but it only lasts a moment before Rebecca rushes over. With their strengths combined, Seth and Rebecca manage to tow Conrad into the darkness of Die Bibliothek.
I try to untangle myself from Fawn, but it takes me too long. By the time I’m back on my feet, I’ve lost sight of the others and I know searching will be futile.
“God damn it!” I yell, balling my hands into fists so tight my nails cut into my palms. I’m about to go on a swearing rampage when something stops me. “What the hell−”
As I watch, Fawn sways on her feet and then faints. I’m so shocked that I don’t even flinch as she crumples, hitting her head off a log as she falls. That had to hurt.
I freeze in place. A moment passes where I simple twiddle my thumbs.
Right over left. Under left. Over left.
Kis? I ask. You there?
A beat passes and then a faint voice drifts into my conscious. Yes.
Are you okay? I sense her shaking her head and I sigh. Is there any information you can give me on why they took Conrad? How can I find him?
There’s no response for a moment and then: Yes, but it’s not something I want to explain right now. I’ll explain in person.
“Hopefully soon,” I mumble aloud. She doesn’t say anything after that so I take that as my opportunity to figure out what to do about Fawn.
Dropping to my knees next to her, I poke her cheek experimentally. She stirs but doesn’t wake. Warily, I inspect the back of her head where she fell. There’s definitely going to be a nice goose egg there. Maybe if I hadn’t of frozen I could have caught her! Or maybe none of this would have happened if I had been paying more attention to Conrad.
Cursing myself, I scoop Fawn up into my arms. I begin to make my way back home, sweating and stumbling the whole way. Once there, I shove the side door open and am heading for the stairs when my dad bursts out of his office.
“Where have you−” he stops as he studies Fawn. His eyebrows scrunch together. “What happened to her?”
I look down at her as well, my arms burning. “It’s a long story,” I mumble.
His eyes narrow. “We need to talk,” he says. “You’re in a hell of a lot of trouble.”
What did I do now?
A couple months ago Kismet put a spell on our parents to make them oblivious to our absences. It was either accept Kismet’s help or have very angry parents until we finish the Tales.
Surely the spell hasn’t worn off yet… right? This has to be about something else.
“Let me put Fawn down and then we can talk,” I say.
He merely nods before disappearing back into his office. Free of his glare, I rush up the stairs to my room and place Fawn on the bed. I shake her shoulder, begging her to wake up and explain things to me. She only lets out a moan and turns away. I can’t tell if she’s asleep or just discombobulated.
I curse and look around my room for inspiration. My eyes land on the doors to the second floor balcony, but I have to look away. I can’t run yet. I have to figure out what’s happening. Plus, there’s no way I could carry an unconscious Fawn over my balcony without killing her. I’m going to have to man up to my dad. I need to be a big boy.
I don’t rush as I ease my way down the stairs, around the corner, and into my dad’s office. Words begin rushing from my mouth before both feet are even over the threshold.
“Let me explain before you get angry,” I say. Yes, I’m not sure what I’m planning on explaining since I’m not sure why he’s angry, but sooner or later he’ll cut me off. “I’m sorry for what I did and−”
Here it comes.
“That does not excuse disappearing for a week and countless times before. I don’t know what came over me that I didn’t talk to you about this sooner, but you can’t just disappear and say nothing. Your mom has been worried sick and your brother, too. We nearly called the police.”
I was missing a week? In Fairy Tale time I was missing a week, but time is different in the Tales. An hour there is a minute here. It should have only been a couple hours that I was gone…
Why does he care that I was missing?
That could only mean one thing…
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