“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

(I wrote this in my first English class at Tri-C. The prompt was to write about a defining moment in our lives and I could think of none better.  🙂 – JM)

“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

Being told I had to repeat the first grade was the catalyst for a great defining moment in my life. It all started at the end of first grade during a parent teacher conference. The faculty had decided to place me in second grade; this confused my mother a great deal. She has told me since, that she always thought I was a bright child but had resigned to the fact I was slated to repeat the first grade. I couldn’t read a word, and my mother would not accept that that was “perfectly normal” for some kids my age.

Learning to read probably doesn’t sound like much of a defining moment and generally events happen suddenly, but I can think of no single event that has made such an impact on my life. I was young when this happened and was worried that I was now a year behind my friends, and me, in my infinite six-year old wisdom decided I must have been a dummy. I heard someone say, “no one fails the first grade.” That hurt me a great deal because I didn’t want to be different.

I’m not sure if it was that week, or the week following, but it was soon after this conference in which my mother demanded I repeat the first grade that my great change occurred. An unlikely thing to be appreciative for some may think, but I couldn’t be happier. My mother had always spent time with me, but like most parents she was under harsh time constraints; trying to raise my brother, my step brother and myself. I am not sure how she did it all. She’d get home at 5pm or so, cook dinner, help my brothers with their homework and do all the other household chores. My step father usually worked late back then, so she was on her own in the evenings.

Despite all her duties as a mother, which she never complained about, she somehow squeezed in my favorite time of day, “Reading with Momma time.” I can’t remember everything we read, but I still clearly remember sitting there at the kitchen table captivated as my mother taught me how to sound out the words. She spent the entire year I was repeating the first grade working with me every evening before bath time patiently listening to me stumble through the bigger words.

My mother’s hard work had paid off by the beginning of second grade, I could read the newspaper front to back and over again with little difficulty. I smile every time I think of my mom balancing her check book as I run into the kitchen she looks up, smiling, knowing the inevitable is coming, “Mommy what’s this word mean?” I’d ask anxious. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud as I was the moment I was presented with my very own Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. My mother was equally grateful I am sure, now she could get some peace. The first word I looked up was unabridged:

Unabridged (un-a-bridged)  n. a dictionary that has not been reduced in size by omission of terms or definitions; the most comprehensive edition of a given dictionary. After I read that definition I got even more excited. It was just a blue dictionary, one I nearly wore the cover off of over the years, but it was so much more to me. To me that silly book was like the world’s biggest decoder ring, and I used it as such.

I developed a voracious appetite for books. Reading never lost the novelty for me, even after all these years. I am always reading something. I so long for those simpler days when the only worries I had were how much later I could talk my mom into letting me stay up because I was dying to know what adventure the next chapter held.

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Hansel and Grethel (a retelling)

(So I found this going through some old files from my back up hard drive. I wrote this for a children’s literature class I was enrolled in. Susie’s condition worsened and I never even handed this in to be graded. We were to rewrite a child’s fairy tale and I chose this one. It was the first and only time I attempted to directly rewrite someone else’s story.  I hope you enjoy what I tried to do here. It was fun. Thank you. – JM)

Hansel and Grethel

As written by

Jeffery Vogel

2010

Eng 2601

Hansel and Grethel (a reimagining)

            This is a tale of two children who lived on the edge of a large forest with their parents; the boy, Hansel and his sister Grethel. Theirs was a sad story for their parents had no food left to feed them. The children lay awake far too hungry to sleep when they heard their mother speaking to their father. What they heard sent chills down their spines.

“Husband there is no food left to feed the children, we must get rid of them right away. How shall we feed ourselves, shall we all four die of hunger?”

“But dear wife they are our children how could you be so cold?” Hearing their father speak these words, the children wondered the same thing.

It did not take her long to convince him; even the children noticed some subtle change in their mother’s voice. Their father’s objections faded to nothing more than an accepting groan.

“We shall take them deep in the woods and leave them; they will never find their way home.” The mother’s voice was calm and gentle, as reassuring as any mother’s would be accept for the terrible words she spoke.

Hansel spoke softly to his sister, “dear sister, I know what has happened, two nights past I heard a noise and awoke startled. I followed the sound outside; it led me down past the woodshed. I could see a bright almost heavenly light seeming to flow between the trees from deep in the old wood.”

“Were you not terrified brother? I could not have gone alone and seen such things I would have fallen feint.” Grethel was still shaking and her voice quivered as she spoke.

“I was frightened but I could not stop myself from wandering deeper.” He stopped and pondered what he had seen, trying to decide the best way to relate his tale to his sister.

“Well?”  Grethel ordered. “What did you see?”

“Sorry sister, I was lost in my own foolish head. I followed the light or was it the sound? My feet were finding their own way, as if by magic. It was as if I had no control over my own parts. I have never felt in such a way before, I felt like I was dreaming.”

Grethel was terrified and growing impatient to hear what Hansel saw but was too fearful of what she may learn from his answer to ask again.

“I came to a clearing and the light was so bright I could not look directly at it, there was a sound and it was then I knew that the sound had been calling to me. That’s when I saw her come from the center of the light as though she was in that moment born. She was wearing her night clothes outside!” Hansel was again thinking and grew silent.

“Who, who did you see?” Grethel could no longer tolerate another long silence so close to hearing the end.

“Mother, It was mother. She was the same but not the same. Her eyes were red like coals but as I stood watching they changed back to her normal lovely blue. Before the change she seemed not to see, perhaps that is why she did not know she was dressed so.”

“What has happened to our mother? She would never dare set foot out of her dressing room in such a state, what if someone had seen?” Grethel was mortified at the thought of being seen in her nightgown.

“I do not know. I hid behind a tree and right before my eyes…” Hansel trailed off again lost to his memories.

Grethel did not like the look on her brothers face and shook him till he became aware and he continued. “I ran and ran as fast as I could. The sun was creeping over the trees, I had been outside for hours but it only seemed a few moments. When I woke I thought it was all a dream. I prayed it was all a dream. When I was dressing I saw that my shoes were filthy, I still thought it was a dream.” Hansel was trying to convince himself but his attempts at self reassurance failed.

The children were frightened; revealing his tale to his sister had done little to dispel his own fear from the encounter in the woods. This did not make sense to them, they were terrified.

It was Grethel who broke the silence. “Father, we must tell father. She must be possessed by some evil beast or perhaps she is bewitched, yes that must be it a witch has taken mother!”

Hansel sluggishly nodded his approval and the children waited until they heard their mother’s rhythmic breathing. She was sound asleep.

“Father, wake up please.” Urged the shaking Grethel as Hansel stood blank faced. Grethel was not noticing the change in her brother’s demeanor. If she had she would have noticed that each time he thought of the encounter and remembered the night he grew more docile. His face was losing expression. In the dark and in such a hurry to quietly wake her father these things she did not notice.

Their loving father woke without a sound, he just starred blank facedly and spoke only three words, “Your bidding master?”

To this the mother who was no mother at all bolted from the bed and with a grotesquely distorted and serpentine like arm grabbed at Grethel, but the girl was faster.  Hansel was watching eyes wide but no sound issued from his mouth.

“Oh no Hansel not you too!” Screamed Grethel, she saw that what ever her mother witch had done to their father was now starting to take hold of Hansel. She quickly reacted as the mother monster crept closer to her and began throwing anything she could find to block her path.

Grethel threw clothes and finally through pure luck in the dark she found a blanket and she threw it over the mother imposter. This gave her enough time to grab Hansel by the arm and get him moving out the door.

Half pulling, half dragging she got Hansel down the stairs and out into the woods. She had been wary of the woods at night for fear of the wild things that live there but tonight nothing seemed scarier than her own mother witch.

Her mind raced trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly her brother regained his senses and after some time he stopped bewildered and asked, “Grethel what in the world are we doing so deep in the woods at night?”

“Do you not remember?” She was frightened and was certain that her brother may have been in shock but for him to have no memories of the terrible scene they had just fled doubled her fears.

“We were in our room talking and I must have dozed off.” He was completely unaware of anything happening.

Grethel quickly recounted the story and Hansel did seem to remember it but only as if he had dreamt it.  As they stood they realized they had never been this deep in the woods and they decided they needed to leave a trail to find their way home. Grethel had a piece of bread; it was half her dinner from earlier that night. Hansel would drop a bread crumb every so often so they would be able to at least find their way back to the spot and from there they could get home. They needed help so they wandered ever deeper in the hopes they could find a woodsman’s shack. They believed if they could find a big strong man he could save their father and hopefully return their mother to them.

They walked until they could walk no more and there on the ground where they stopped to rest they slept. They did not wake until well past noon. They were hungry and it was then Hansel noticed that even the closest pieces of bread he had dropped were nowhere to be seen.

“Oh no Grethel, the crumb trail is gone! We are lost!” Hansel’s eyes began to tear up as he yelled at the unresponsive trees.

“Quiet now!” Grethel demanded. “How can I think with you howling like a banshee?”

It was true they were hopelessly lost, but their mission had not changed they needed to find someone, anyone, only then would their family be saved. At last Grethel spoke. “We shall mark the trees; scratch the bark so we shall know if we have passed it before.”

Hansel was overcome with grief and trudged along quietly. Occasionally Grethel would see his eyes begin to glaze over but as the hours passed this seemed to lesson. Hansel was not quite himself but he was improving as night began to fall.

“Oh dear brother, we are saved! Look there, a light, it is a cottage!” Grethel ran towards the source of light with Hansel close behind. As they reached the cottage they were both speechless for the cottage was made of candy and cakes and all manner of delicious treats.

Hansel immediately set to eating a gingerbread flower box covered with rich icing. Grethel more cautious than her foolish brother broke off a small piece of a shutter which was made of peanut brittle. She sniffed cautiously and gave it a little taste, once she was convinced it was good she began to eat voraciously.

With a loud bang and a cackle a long bony arm came through the open window and snatched Hansel by the collar of his night shirt pulling him effortless into the house. Grethel saw this with amazement for the arm looked frail and weak but was deceptively strong.

Grethel found that though the urge to run was upon her she could not move, she was more sleepy than she had ever thought possible. She stretched out on the ground just below the gingerbread flower box and slept soundly.

She awoke when she was poked hard in the back with an old broom stick. “Wake up missy!” The old witch demanded.

Grethel’s mind raced. “It is you, you are the one who bewitched our mother!” she was frightened, but could not stop the words from coming. “I demand you give us our mother back!”

The witch was taken aback, usually the children who fell into her trap were scared and sheepish, but this one surprised her. “Missy you just hush up that nonsense, I have no use for mothers or fathers it is children I desire. Now you have work to do, your going to help me fatten up that scrawny brother of yours so I can eat him. If you give me any trouble I’ll eat you to!” The witch was sure this would quell the girl’s impetuous nature.

To the witch’s dismay this only riled the girl further. She saw that Grethel’s face had turned the darkest crimson. “You are lying!” Blurted Grethel she stepped closer to the witch. The witch retreated back a step.

This made the old hag think a moment. “What have you seen girl that would make you fearlessly speak to me so? In all my years I have never been spoken to in such a way, not even by grown folks.” It was then the witch allowed her eyes to turn to their true color, a dark glowing red.

In spite of scaring the girl into submission as the witch hoped, Grethel’s resolve was strengthened. This is indeed the witch who had taken their mothers place. “See you have the eyes you are the one who took my mother!”

The witch’s anger had grown she raised the handle of the broom to strike the girl but before she let the blow fall the girl’s words began to sink in. “You have seen such eyes as mine girl?”

“No, but my brother has”, he saw you in the woods when you turned into our mother!” Grethel was angry, scared, sad, but most of all angry.

“Interesting little one, there are no others in this part of the world like myself. I have lived many generations and never seen a single one of my kind. Perhaps there is a new arrival. This is not at all good for you or me you senseless child.” The witch’s tone was not as menacing as before; it had grown a curious air.

Grethel was trying to think of what to do, could it be there are two witches. The thought of one was bad enough, but the thought of two, well that was far worse. If this witch did not know of the other and it is bad for her maybe this could be good for us.

“So you are not the one who took our mother and entranced our father?” Grethel asked.

“Of course not you daft girl! I thought surely you would be smarter than that dim-whit out in my shed. Perhaps I was wrong.” The witch was lost in thought and the girl’s interruption warranted a thump with the broom handle. “We witches can never be to close you see, we need children to make our brews and stews which make us live. Too many witches in one place attracts too much attention, silly people will start to wonder where their little ones have gone.”

Grethel had a plan, she did not know if it would work but she had to try. She would go along with this witch’s desires, seeing the old hag’s annoyance at the thought of another witch in her area. Grethel decided to use that for her own good. She calmed herself.

She accommodated every whim of the old woman, occasionally when the moment was right she would mention something about the mother imposter. “I have never seen anyone or anything so strong! She can change her appearance with out a thought! You don’t think she is stronger than you, do you?” This went on for days, to the witch’s annoyance.

Hansel, Grethel had found, was locked in a shed heavily chained with no hope of escape. She whispered to him on the first day. “Do whatever she says brother I have a way to right things, I just need some time.” Hansel agreed and things went thusly for five more days.

Hansel ate and slept. Grethel cleaned, cut wood and did anything else the witch demanded of her. On the fifth day the witch said “that brother of yours will be ripe tomorrow and I am going to bake him in this oven so you need to clean it out and fetch some wood.” It was now or never Grethel thought.

“Mistress I have an idea that might solve two problems for you at once.” Grethel had taken to calling the old hag mistress in an attempt to show respect, the witch had not argued but seemed to rather enjoy it.

“Oh have you now missy?” The witch was intrigued for the girl was clever and not only had she jabbed at the witch’s pride she had tried to boost her ego as well by feigning interest in becoming a witch herself.

“Oh yes, I have been thinking since we got here, since there are two witches and you need children to make your brews and stews that the mother witch must have been going to cook us herself. Perhaps she is weak and long without food.”

“Dear child, you are wise. What is it you have in mind?”

“My brother you see is so plump and ready for cooking; perhaps we could use him as bait to bring the mother monster out in the open. You being more powerful than she is could kill her and take her power. There are very few children in our village; two witches will be too many to go unnoticed.”

The witch was wary as witches tend to be, she felt like the girl was up to something. “What is in this for you lass, why are you so willing to help me?”

“I want to be a witch. I always have to do what I am told and my brother being a boy can come and go as he pleases! My chores never cease!” Grethel was as convincing as she could be.

Grethel never expecting this, but the witch’s crooked mouth widened into an unnatural smile that sent chills down her spine, but this she hid well.

Grethel told the witch of her village, the witch knew it well. For over the centuries when no children wandered close she had to go and capture them herself. Grethel’s plan was to have her brother, who was now fully under the witch’s control after eating a weeks worth of bewitched goodies, would walk up and simply knock on the door. The mother monster would simply think he had wandered lost and hungry for a week and had haplessly wandered home. Grethel and the old hag would be waiting out of sight ready to attack.

The old witch had promised if Grethel helped in this task she would be given the secrets that only witches know. Grethel pretended to be pleased.

Though they had walked countless hours to come to the old hag’s candy cottage it took merely minutes to reach their village. Indeed the old hag had power, but Grethel was growing nervous that the mother imposter may actually be stronger.

The witch instructed Hansel and set him to his task. Grethel and the witch hid behind a large tree just off the corner of the house. Hansel knocked and no sound issued for such a long moment that they began to fear the mother monster had moved on.

A light flashed on in the parent’s room, unnaturally bright. Not candle light, something else. It was something sinister Grethel surely thought. Even the old hag seemed unnerved by it. The sounds of heavy footfalls echoed through the house and out the dusty windows into the night air. The anticipation was almost more than Grethel could stand. She nearly shrieked when the door slowly creaked open. Unaware, Hansel stood there stupidly slouching with his hands hanging listlessly by his sides.

In the doorway stood Grethel’s mother; she as beautiful as ever. Her blue eyes beamed in the darkness, as if illuminated by some inner light. “Ah you’ve returned. Where is your sister?” The mother witch softly asked.

Hansel turned towards the tree, at that moment the mother imposter burst through the door just as the old hag rounded the tree. They stared at each other; both seemed very surprised to see each other. Twenty feet of earth separated these two menacing creatures.

“You are not like the others.” Softly spoke the mother imposter.

“Child this is no witch.” The old hag spoke gravely.

“What are you old woman, why have you come to seek me out?” The mother monster asked pleasantly.

“A witch I be, older than even I remember. No more of us I imagine. I came here because I were told there was another witch here.” She answered, curiously she added. “Now what might ye be?”

The mother witch’s eyes blazed red, her limbs began to change, she began to grow larger. “I ask the questions and you dear witch shall make a fine addition to our collection!”

“Collect me! We will see who gets collected!” The old hag grew fierce all the while Grethel watched in horror. What ever it was that had taken their mother was far worse than the old hag who intended to eat her brother. She gained her composure as the two monsters began to circle each other. She crept around the yard to her dazed brother and pulled him into a hedge. They needed to run but she had to see what was to happen.

The two seemed to grow larger. Clumps of earth were raised and circled in the air about the old hags form. No longer frail and weak in appearance. Grethel had only heard stories of such things, monsters able to change their shape to any they desired.

When the old hag took a step towards the now completely misshapen mother imposter lightning struck the ground around her and the earth shook. Fire shot from the old woman’s eyes and the thing that had been their mother made an unearthly noise and jumped back. It was hurt but this only slowed its reaction a mere second. It retaliated with light, blazing red and blue so bright it stung Grethel’s eyes to watch. The light struck the witch in the shoulder and with an ear splitting screech she stumbled to her knees.

The mother witch no longer resembled their mother. It was now twice her height the arms were larger and much longer. The fingers were much too long; the same was true for the legs and toes. Grethel gasped when the thing that had been her mother scanned the bushes seeking their hiding place. Its head was tall and askew, the closest thing Grethel could liken it to would have been a green giant gourd. The eyes were lifeless, colorless slits, these too were abnormally proportioned. Even Grethel crouched petrified as if bewitched like her brother. Her paralysis was fear induced unlike her brother’s magic induced stupor.

While distracted by the search for the children the [not] witch mother took her eyes off the witch. Commanding the air and earth the old witch hurled dozens of rocks and chunks of earth at the no longer mother thing. These hit home and when the mother thing screeched into the night Grethel nearly collapsed. The sound had seemed to pierce her ear drums and left her with a intense feeling of vertigo.

The old witch did not let up for a moment. Before the mother thing could retaliate the old hag was launching trees, farm equipment, lumber, and even parts of the out buildings and parts of the house were torn free and battering the screeching wailing mother thing.

The witch had created a vortex firmly around the mother monster. Stone and wood and steel battered it ceaselessly. It was hurt and in a final attempt to end this fight the old hag sent the weather vane straight through what passed for its chest. Grethel knew their plight was yet to be over but at least with this mother thing gone they might have a chance of escape and reuniting their family.

“Hansel, the witch killed the monster, we need to run away now.” Grethel whispered to her brother not wanting to attract any unwanted attention. Her plan was going to work. The witch was wounded and exhausted. The battle had taken its toll. They needed to flee. Grethel could hear Hansel was speaking in a very soft voice. She leaned in to hear.

Slowly as he began to drool on his nightshirt, Hansel spoke one last time. “It was some kind of coach with no horses, it moved freely and it flew into the sky like a bright round bird.”

There was a flash and Grethel could see the witch consumed in the brightest most brilliant light she had ever seen. She watched the witch scream as she was seemingly melted in the bright light. The light was upon her now and as she saw her fingers begin to melt away, there was no pain, only warmth, she lost consciousness.

Hansel, Grethel, their father, their mother, and the witch were never heard from or seen again. All that remained of their home was a scorched hole large enough to fit their house in three times over. Many years later the place seemed untouched even by the dense forest which surrounded it. Nothing would grow inside this scorched ring and it became known as an evil place to be avoided.

fin…