I heard the cry of a nightingale that night as I stepped outside into the forest which my home lay in. The bird's call was small and fragile as if it was lost and afraid. At the same time it reverberated throughout the forest like some sort of warning that something huge was coming.
I knew that nightingales weren't nocturnal birds and therefore wondered why it was awake and calling in the prime of the night. I wouldn't judge however as then I would have to explain why a human such as myself was about. It was dangerous of course, and I knew it. Even in daytime the forest was dangerous, and at night it was even worse. Any night I could meet the Wolf lurking about and it would be almost certain that I wouldn't live to tell the tale. But there was little to none chance of me sleeping at night boxed up in that lonely decrepit house that served as my home. It was the choice between roaming a dangerous world or feeling even more unsafe inside my own confinements.
The nightingale called again and there was a rustle behind me causing me to jump in fear.
"It's just me." A voice hissed. I turned around and a caped silhouette caught my eyes.
"Red," I hissed. "You almost gave me a heart attack!"
"Sorry." She replied. "I couldn't sleep." I nodded my head in sympathy. Red and I were the same in many, events that had fed our insomnia and led us to become night wanderers. Our friendship was formed by a common denominator- traumatic experiences- and Red's included the Wolf himself. She was seventeen now, a few months older than myself, yet she was just twelve when it happened.
He wanted her. She seemed was irresistible to him and when the wolf wanted someone, he had them. Somehow however, in a rare twist of fate, Red was spared. The queen's huntsman was traveling that day and was able to intervene in time. He left an ugly scar across the wolf's left eye in payment for the scar the wolf left on Red's heart.
As for me… I shivered as I recalled purest white snow that ate at my soul. Long black hair, a flash of icy blue eyes, and a soothing, deadly voice. My parents believed that's where I went wrong.
When they left our village to escape the danger of the Wolf they left me as well. My father Anders, his newest wife, and my sister Gretel left town. But they didn't need me.
"All you do is make up those silly stories in your head they told me." I was ugly, I had no real talent. Why waste any valuable food on my mouth? For a while I believed them that I wasn't worth life. But Red was there for me. Orphan Red. She lived alone as well. Only a year after her incident her mother's life was taken by the wolf, presumably hungry for revenge. The villagers that were left at that point assured her that it was just a coincidence. But we weren't so sure. The Wolf never came back for Red, but he did for her mother. How were we to know that this wasn't his way to pay back for his injury?
I tried to smile at what I could see of Red in the moonlight and her back at me. We were the only ones left in the village now. Everyone else had left. They had urged us to as well, but no one cared enough to see that we really did. No one really cared about the ugly dreamer and the wolf girl with a dead mother. We were nothing but a burden. Red nodded to the sky.
"Do you hear that?" She asked. I nodded.
"A nightingale. I wonder what it's doing out at this hour." I answered. Red shrugged.
"Who knows? Maybe we should follow it."
"What did you think I was doing out here?" Red gave me a lopsided grin and bolted in the direction of the song.
"Wait!" I cried in a loud whisper. "Not so loud." Red slowed her pace and the two of us took off in the path the bird gave us. To my surprise, the path its song made was surprisingly clear. I knew exactly where it was leading me as if it actually was taking me somewhere.
Red and I tramped on in silence for a few minutes, but it didn't take us very long to reach a clearing. A clearing that I had never seen before. Red sucked in her breath. In the very middle of the small clearing was a large juniper tree.
"Hansel." she whispered. "I've walked this forest up and down, I know it by heart… but I've never seen a juniper tree here before." I didn't say a word. Rather, I stepped towards the tree.
I couldn't say why, but there was something emanating from that tree. There was something ethereal about it, the way the light of the moon bounced off of it creating an unreal glow. It wasn't that I had never seen the tree that was spectacular; it was the soul of it. The fact that something as inanimate as a tree could give off an aura of having a soul.
I was right in front of it, but Red had stayed behind, staring at it in awe. Perhaps we were both tired or simply to weary of life to be truly sane, but the two of us felt like we were baring our everything to this tree. It seemed to breathe purpose into my very being. I reached my hand out to touch it.
"Red, I wonder what would happen if I ate o…." My hand made contact with the tree and the world zoomed out of focus. The moon turned off casting my world in black, and it hurtled me into the unknown. My head rang with the song of the nightingale as my lanky body made contact with hard wood.
I lay there for a few moments- or less than a second, I cannot tell- unsure as to where I was. Wood- the forest I was just in was covered in grass. So why was I on top of wood? I moved by arm around and made contact with what felt like the sharp edge of a bookcase. A large thud emanated through the space suggesting that I was somewhere small and enclosed. My eyes shot open.
I was in a room, a study of some sort. There was a desk and a chair, a couch, some bookshelves… and two men staring down at me, horror etched into their features.
"Is it… it's not him, is it?" One of the men asked in shock. I sat up and my eyes registered a large book bound in green fabric lying on the ground. It must have been the noise I had heard a moment ago. Without even thinking about it, I snatched the book up and leapt to my feet.
"Give that back Hansel!" One of the men demanded. I shook my head furiously, although I was unsure why.
"Wh- who are you two?" I asked, my voice shaking. "How d-did you get me here? Was it the tree?" The men exchanged worried glances. I saw an etching of fear inside of them.
"Wilhelm… it's really happened." The older one said with horror. "He came." The younger of the two, presumably Wilhelm was staring at the book in my hand.
"He really came out of it. Jacob- he made it out. I didn't think-" My gaze shifted from one man to another. Each of them were looking at each other as if my appearance meant something horribly significant. I had a feeling it did. But perhaps that was due to the fact that they had just insinuated that I had appeared from a book.
"What's going on here?" I demanded, trying to sound tougher than I was. The two turned their attention to me, and suddenly I realized that I wanted anything but their attention. I shrunk back. Their expressions suggested that I was some sort of demon, or worse, and I didn't like that. The eldest, Jacob, gulped.
"Hansel." He said, trying to keep his voice calm. "We- Wilhelm and I- we're brothers. And we're the Writers. We don't expect you to understand that, but your appearance means that there is less time than we thought. We need- we need to…." He turned to his brother for guidance.
"What do you mean the Writers?" I asked. "Do you mean this book?" They both nodded. I looked down at the hefty book in my hands.
"And what do you write?" I asked. They exchanged glances.
"You… Red… the Wolf, Snow White, a multitude of tales. Everything in your world." My head shot up.
"You don't mean to say that you write every single thing that I and everyone I know do?"
"Not exactly… but we manage your world. For instance, say you name and open the book." I glared at the two suspiciously, but did as they said.
"Hansel." I muttered, and flipped open the green binding.
Hansel, brother of Gretel. He and companion Red are the only remaining residents in Gingerbread village. When Hansel was 13 years old….
I slammed the book shut at that point. I didn't need to read what had happened there, I had experienced it. The brothers watched me closely for a reaction. Or maybe to see if I knew what to do next. I closed my eyes and thought hard. I remembered a boy that had visited our village a few times. The first time I had met him he was older then I was, but as time went on I grew older than him.
"Peter Pan." I announced, and again I opened the book.
Peter Pan is the leader of Never-Never land, a free spirit with a promise to never grow old. He has a group of companions who also retain the wish to never age, but as time goes on they often change their minds and grow up. At times Peter travels to find other boys willing to join him.
I stared at the book. It was true of course. The first two times I had ever met the boy he urged me to join him in his home. I never went. The book in my hand… it was no doubt extraordinary, but it was nothing special. No, I had seen magic before and this was just another magic trick. However, something was tugging at me, pulling me towards the book.
"Hansel." Wilhelm demanded, pulling me from my thoughts. "How exactly did you get here?"
"A juniper tree." I answered. "One I had never seen before." Wilhelm raised his eyebrows and Jacob cursed underneath his breath.
"That damned juniper tree… It will be the end of us." There was a wild urgency in his eyes and he locked them with mine.
"Did anyone follow you to that tree?" He asked, panicked.
"I- I mean Red, but I didn't see anyone else… I don't know." The man nodded.
"Right…. Well Hansel, listen to me. Do not let that book get into the hands of anyone but yourself." I blinked. Once. Twice. And then I held the book out.
"No, wait- this is your book, not mine!" I protested. Jacob shook his head.
"You don't understand. We are in danger. That book controls your world! It cannot belong to anyone who will misuse it, and they will." He walked to the desk and picked up a quill pen. He held it out to me.
"Listen, this is valuable. It doesn't ever run out of ink- you'll never have to dip it. Do not let anyone but you touch that to paper. Now take it." I shook my head, sure that this was some sort of trick. This was crazy- I was-
"Take it!" Jacob shouted, his eyes flashing. In fear I shot my hand out and snatched the quill from his hands. As I did an arrow appeared from nowhere, piercing the brother in the back. I shouted and looked around the room. There were no windows. Jacob fell to the ground just as another arrow appeared from thin air hitting Wilhelm.
"Hansel!" He gasped. "We aren't- we aren't meant to stay dead. Do what you need too, and… help… everyone…." His words began to die away as my vision turned to red. The world spun out of focus again as it had a few minutes earlier, and my heart was beating fast. The book in my hand was burning as I was flung back to where I was before. The juniper tree. It was the exact same as it had just been, calm and majestic. The tree hadn't changed a bit, but in those few minutes I had. I stared at the book in my hands and shivered. I had the feeling that a whole lot of responsibility lie between the covers of this book- responsibility I didn't remember signing up for.
The world came back into focus when I heard the panicked shriek of a nightingale. It was more urgent now than before- and the nightingale's cry was followed by that of Red. I turned to face my friend who I had forgotten must have been standing by the tree the whole time in panic at me. She was staring next to me, screaming my name- and next to her…. My heart stopped.
Two eyes framed by fur glowed in the night. The edges of the left one were scarred. The Wolf growled.
"Give me the book, Hansel."