Long ago, when wishes still came true and the old forests were black as sin and boundless as the sea, there lived a woodcutter. He was tall and had arms as thick as tree stumps, and though he was a hard man, he was undeniably fair.

"I shall be gone to-day," he told his two children, "so be good and let no one into the house, for there are many bad people about in this dark and boundless forest." And then, hefting his great woodsman's axe, he took his leave, closing the door behind him.

His two children, Jack and Mary, were good and kind like their mother, may her soul rest in peace, although Jack had within him a trickster's streak, and Mary was but a simple-minded girl. Both had her blonde hair and blue cornflower eyes, and skin fair as cow's milk. Because they loved their father and because they were afraid of his great temper, they dutifully obeyed every day, not letting any into the house, although visitors were far and between, this deep into the heart of the woods.

One day, however, there came a knock upon their door. "Let me in, let me in," cackled a witche's voice, through the door. "For I am the plague, and I will kill you where you stand if you do not let me in!"

Mary, being goose-addled in the head, went to open the door until Jack stopped her. Raising his voice, he replied, "Not by the teeth of our little black cat will we let you in, for if you were truly the plague you would kill us where we stood anyway if we let you in!"

And he smiled at his sister, for, though the two children had no black cat, they had outsmarted the witch-woman, and no other voices were heard through the door.

Not long afterward, another knock came to the door. "Open up! Open up!" pleaded the voice of what may or may not have been the same witch-woman. "I am a mouse, and I am being chased by a horde of black cats, ten-and-three in all! Refuge," the voice pleaded, scratching at the woodcutter's front door. "Refuge, I say!"

"Great lady," said Jack, for his sister was about to unbolt the door once more, "We live in a forest, and there are no black cats to be found here! And if there are, may you be eaten by them!" At that, he laughed and he laughed at having made the witch-woman twice the fool, and his sister smiled nervously along, for she was too simple to understand the joke.

And then, there were no more knocks on the door for a long time, and both Jack and Mary passed the time playing skittles, or singing, or whittling, for there were a great number of hours until their father came home yet, and there was little to do in the black and boundless forest. Mary had no dolls, and Jack had no toys, except for that which he whittled for himself and his sister.

Finally, there was a great rapping on the door and the two children jumped with fright. They held each other and they shook and they shivered as they heard through the door, "Peasants! Open up, open up! I am a messenger for the prince of these lands!" The two children looked at each other and then went to the window, where, out of the corner of their eyes they spied a young man in fine livery. "Let me in," continued the man, "for the lord prince seeks a beautiful girl to be his bride, and he has empowered me in finding his new queen!"

Mary was scared and did not move to open the door, for she loved her father but not the prince, whom she had never met, and did not want to go away. Jack, on the other hand, flew to the door and undid the bolts, hoping to be rewarded handsomely, for while his sister was young and simple-minded, she was still fair to behold.

However, not a prince's servant stood there when he opened the dor, but the witch! She was tall and bony and nearly doubled-over in posture, and she crooked an already-crooked finger at the stunned children. "You will boil in a pot for making me look twice the fool! I will slice you up and savor your juices bit by bit," she chortled.

Then, the witch-woman laid her eye-- for she only had one single eye of the clearest cornflower blue-- upon the children's eyes, and she reached out for them with wrinkled, claw-like hands.

Jack, sensing what she wanted, dragged his sister after him and outside of the house. "Never shall you take us! Not by the shin-hairs of the devil himself!" "So you knowest my true master?" replied the crone in a hair-raising cackle, and the two children shivered in fear.

She was in fast pursuit of the two children, as they ran over and through the thicket of the boundless, black-as-sin forest. When she got close, close enough to claw her hands uselessly through Mary's long hair, Jack dug his hand into his pocket.

He pulled out three beans, which he threw behind them. As soon as the beans hit the soil, they became bamboo sprout, tall but young and green enough to still be succulent and crisp. The witch woman paused long enough to devour them and pursued the two children anew.

The second time she came close, close enough for Jack to feel her fetid hot breath on the back of his neck, he reached into his pocket again and this time produced a rose. He threw that to the ground, and instantly there sprung a huge briar thorn patch, with long sharp needles. Unfortunately, the witch-woman was close on their heels and so neatly missed most of the bush. Her long white hair and the hem of her ragged dress caught on the thorn patch, but that was all. She ripped her hair out of her scalp, and tore her dress, and continued pursuing the children.

"You can't get us, you won't get us! We're as fast as the wind, so try if you must!"

Jack taunted her, over and over, and his gleeful shrieks were heard throughout the forest glade.
Soon, Mary and Jack came upon a large cave in a clearing. Neatly assorted at the mouth of the cave were baubles and trinkets, gold pieces and silver, all in a great number of casks and trunks and chests. It sparkled in the light of the clearing, and Jack stared greedily at it.

"No!" screeched the old witch-woman, emerging from a thicket. "Those are my trinkets and my baubles, my silver pieces and my gold! Name what you want most, and it is yours."

Now, Mary wanted only a little doll, with which to perhaps while away the time while her father was chopping wood. It is the thing she most desired, simple though it may be, for peddlers were far from common in this, the heart of the black and boundless forest. While she was deciding what her doll should look like, which goes to show the extent of her foolishness, it was her brother who spoke first.

"We should like a mirror," he said, to Mary's acute disappointment, "A mirror which, when thrown to the ground, would turn into a huge lake."

The witch-woman snapped her fingers, laughing like someone who knew they had gotten the far better end of a deal. "Done," said she, and siddled up to a nearby tree, lifting her tattered robes.

Both children stared as they watched her piss against the tree, her knees a little apart and bent. The piss dribbled down the bark of the tree in yellow rivulets, where it pooled at the base of the tree like quicksilver, by its roots. She shook herself as the last drops fell from her, sending ripples against the frothing puddle. The pool seemed to coagulate, to harden into a smooth looking-glass with a slightly-tinted yellow patina across its surface.

"We be done here," said the witch-woman, all amusement lost from her voice. "Be gone from my treasure and take care when next we meet, else you'll find yourself a graven man."

"Perhaps," said Jack, without conviction in his voice, and as soon as he took the looking-glass from her swollen-knuckled hands, it fell out of his grasp and tumbled to the ground with a most unsatisfying thump on the packed earth.

Before the witch-woman could reacht and screech and claw his eyes out, the mirror transformed and softened, and suddenly the whole width of an entire lake stood between the witch, and Jack and Mary, as impossible to cross as if it were a gaping chasm.

The two children were about to ask the other just how they expected to get home, when their father the woodcutter, appeared out of a nearby thicket, clearly amazed at the sudden appearance of the lake. "How can this be?" he asks, not really believing his children would know.

Jack tells him, of course, regaling his father with all that had happened thus far, perhaps embellishing the parts where he had tricked the witch-woman, and even fabricating parts where Mary's foolishness had very nearly cost them their lives. And Mary scowled, and her father listened....

"You lie, boy," said the woodcutter, as Jack finished his lengthy tale. "And while I love you dearly for being your mother's son, I must punish you. The entire thing wasn't fictitious rubbish, but enough of it was a lie to have earned you some whipping, boy."

And so it was that Jack received a hundred lashings for lying to his father, so that the flesh of his back was pulpy, his skin criss-crossed and torn to ribbons and slicked with blood besides. Also, for disobeying his father and opening the door while he was gone, the woodcutter cut off his hand. It would have been an entire forearm, since the woodcutter was a just and fair man, but at the last moment he took pity and left the boy a useless stump with which to nudge things around lamely.

Mary, the little girl, had a harsh talking-to by her father, but ultimately being blameless in the matter, was left unpunished. Instead, she finally got the small doll she had always wanted, affter the witch-woman's treasure was brought home and counted. And together they lived in happiness, and if they did not meet their ends, they live there still.



The Moral of the Story:

Don't mess with parents. -OR-
Kids, especially little boys, are all trouble-makers and should be barely tolerated and believed.