Author Ellen Jackson

Handsome and Dreadful

HANDSOME AND DREADFUL

They say I'm a witch. Well, that's a lot of hocus pocus. I'm the nicest old lady you'd ever want to meet. It's true I don't like children much, but I have my reasons.

It all began when I lived in a big apartment building on Cranberry Road. Two wrestlers lived on one side and a troupe of acrobats lived on the other.

BUMP! BUMP! THUMP! THWACK! The noise was deafening.

My cat, Armand, would hide under the bed mewing pitifully. Marcel, my parrot, could only pick at his bird seed. I couldn't sleep.

When the lady across the hall took up the saxophone, I knew we had to move.

About that time, I received a big box and a letter from my uncle. The letter said:

Dear Winifred,

Your Aunt Ida has passed on. She wanted you to have this.

Your Uncle Winston

Inside the letter was a deed to some land in the Dark Forest where Aunt Ida and I used to gather mushrooms. I opened the box. In it was a king-sized microwave oven.

"Hmmmm," I said. Actually I like the old-fashioned kind of oven myself, but that microwave had given me an idea.

"I don't have much money," I said to Armand and Marcel. "So I'll bake us a house."

Now, I've always been a fine cook, and I'm especially good with pastry. I whipped up mountains of gingerbread and big batches of cookies and fudge brownies. I boiled syrup to make candy, lemon drops, and butterscotch. In two weeks I was ready.

We moved to the Dark Forest and I got to work.

Soon I had built the prettiest little cottage you ever saw. It had donuts for doorknobs and gumdrop studded gables. Inside were chairs of chocolate and lamps made of licorice.

"I know we'll be happy here," I said when it was finished.

"Home, Sweet Home," squawked Marcel.

But I was wrong. That night, a strange sound woke me. Nibble, nibble, nibble. The next day, I saw that half the door and most of the windows were missing.

"We must have mice," I said to Armand. "I'll set the mousetrap tonight."

But in the morning, the mousetrap was empty. And the nibbling didn't go away. I heard it again the following night. Something was eating me out of house and home.

"Perhaps it's ants," I said to Armand.

"Awk! Ants! Ants! Ants in your pants!" shrieked Marcel.

The next night, I decided to stay up and watch. Soon I heard the strange sound again. Nibble, nibble, nibble. Then I heard scuffling.

"Ouch!" someone screamed. I flung open the front door.

There, with their mouths stuffed with cake and cookies, were two children eating the awning. They had obviously been fighting over a gumdrop.

The girl had a red face and long stringy hair. The boy was handsome in an evil kind of way. They looked like the kind of kids whose favorite subjects are nap time and lunch.

When she saw me, the girl punched the boy one last time. Then she began to scream, "A witch! A witch!"

"Hush now," I said grabbing them. "Who are you, anyway?"

"My name's Hansel and she's Gretel," said the boy taking out a comb and combing his hair.

"Handsome and Dreadful! Handsome and Dreadful!" screamed Marcel.

"Our parents don't want us anymore," said the girl. She began to weep and wail and gnash her teeth. Hansel tried to work up a tear too.

I was suspicious, but I'm a pushover for a sad story.

"Now, now, Dearie," I said to the girl. "Don't cry."

"She called me Dearie," whispered Gretel to her brother. "That was a witchy thing to say."

"I'm not a witch," I said. "And I do need a couple of kids to help around the place. If you like, you can stay."

The kids slunk in and I gave them some apples and milk.

"See that rug, Gretel?" whispered Hansel, spitting an apple seed at Marcel. "It's red to hide the blood. Maybe we should go."

"If you leave now, you'll miss the traffic," squawked Marcel.

Gretel was busy pulling Armand's tail. Her grin collapsed into a snide sneer.

"Naw, we'll stay," she said.

Well, the next day, things went from bad to worse. Even though I had made them a lovely breakfast of seven-grain granola and stewed prunes, I caught Hansel breaking off a piece of my caramel coated chandelier. When I asked Gretel to clean out Marcel's cage, she plucked the poor bird's feathers until he was bald.

"Handsome and Dreadful! Awk!" shrieked Marcel. Armand hid under the sofa.

The following day Gretel ate the dining room table. Then she tossed a huge wad of bubble gum into the microwave and poured honey into the toaster.

When I asked Hansel to chop some wood for the fireplace, he used the ax to hack a hole in the bathroom wall. I found him admiring himself in the mirror while he munched on a piece of the faucet.

"That does it," I said. I reached for the phone book.

"Hansel! Hansel!" shrieked Gretel. "She's getting out her cookbook. She's gonna cook us alive!"

I called the Dark Forest Detention Home for Thoroughly Disgusting Children.

"Are you missing two children by chance?" I asked.

"Yep. And if you've found them, you'd better be careful. They're dangerous!" said the voice on the end of the line. "We'll send someone right over."

I let Marcel out of his cage and grabbed Hansel.

"You can just stay there until they come for you," I said pushing him inside.

"Here," I said to Gretel handing her a sponge. "You can clean out the microwave while we're waiting."

"I don't know how," Gretel whined. Then with a sly grin she added, "You'll have to show me."

"Like this!" I said. I opened up the door and began to wipe off the back.

"Like this?" she said giving me a mighty push. When I fell inside the microwave, Gretel slammed the door and turned it on to 'high.' Luckily it wasn't plugged in. I never did like those fancy cooking machines.

Soon the people from the detention home arrived, but it was too late. Hansel and Gretel had taken the chocolate and peppermints and disappeared into the Deep Forest. They had enjoyed a snack or two on the way out the door, and my lovely house was in ruins.

Later they went on a talk show and told their side of the story. They said I was a wicked witch who cooked little children and ate them for lunch. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?

A few days later, the sheriff came around asking a lot of questions. So I moved out in a hurry.

It isn't all bad though. It turns out that Aunt Ida had stashed a bag of gold in the innards of that microwave. I found it when I was banging on the sides with my shoe, trying to get out.

So I bought myself a piece of land and began to grow vegetables. Soon I'll have enough to build a house.

I never heard of a child yet who would eat a house made of brussels sprouts.