Gingerbread and Time by Amanda Downum

Snow piles in bone-drifts outside the door, but it's warm beside my oven.

I'm alone in the cottage now. My brother left not long after our stepmother died. Foolish boy—he'd never have found wolfsbane in his tea, but he couldn't trust me. He was little more than sticks bound with skin and rag; I wonder if he'll ever eat without fear again.

Father suffered for months; a little hemlock set us both free.

I'm never hungry now, even this cold winter. I sell cakes and bread in the village, or trade them for things my garden
cannot grow. The children love my gingerbread best of all.

Grubby-faced, sticky-fingered creatures—I have no desire to eat them.

Men offer me ribbons to plait in my golden hair, bangles for my white arms. Sometimes they offer me kisses, and
sometimes I take them.

But the village is not for me. Neither is this house with its drafty roof and hungry memories.

Deep in the forest, far from any path, lies a ruined cottage. Its walls and windows are gone now, eaten by birds and mice, but no scavengers touch the bones in the hearth.

Her spirit haunts me, moaning in the chimney and rattling icy fingers on the door. She isn't angry anymore, only lonely. I'm lonely too. Children's laughter and men's kisses cannot sate me.

Spring will come and melt the snow. I will take my baking bowl and favorite spoon, and seeds from the garden. I will take her bones from their bed of rust and ash. We will go into the forest, far from any path, and build a new cottage. It will be built of strong timber, no matter what she says. My garden will bloom rich and fragrant, and the house will smell of gingerbread. Perhaps some day some hungry little girl will smell it and come to me. I have many things to teach.

I will leave no trail of breadcrumbs behind me when I go.

Amanda Downum lives in Texas, where she slaves in a library to support her fiction habit. She keeps a husband and many cats. She bakes gingerbread, but does not eat children. Her short fiction is published at Strange Horizons.

Image © Kay Nielsen, Hansel and Gretel, 1925