Just off the Path
by Weston Sullivan
Hansel never asked to be a hero. He never wanted to fall in love with Rapunzel, Queen of the East. He didn’t ask to be raised by Gothel the Wretch, and he certainly never wanted to be credited for her arrest. But more than any of that, Hansel never wanted to lie: but he did. He lied about everything. He thought that he was done with it all when he and his sister Gretel retreated into the woods to reclaim their land, but he should have known better.
Hansel needs to find a way to fix this, otherwise he will be responsible for Grimm’s destruction, or that is what he thinks. As Hansel isn’t the only liar in Grimm.
The Girl in the Red Cape
My rude brother’s name is Hansel,” Gretel said, pushing her way past a particularly thorny vine. “And I’m Gretel.”
“How am I rude?” Hansel asked, his voice sharp. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. Their hunt was fruitless, and it was cold enough that his breath rushed from his nostrils and plumed into the air above his head. “I saved her life, didn’t I?”
The girls walked ahead of him, Ceara only steps ahead of Gretel. Every few seconds, she stopped to gather her bearings. They were fast friends; Hansel knew Gretel was intrigued by Ceara’s fearlessness. She walked the thickets as if they were a second home to her, leaving Hansel behind to worry about the things that hid in the darkness. He kept his bow drawn. It felt as though the briar was pulling him back and with each step he took, he could feel the thorns prick his skin, snag his clothes, like Grimm itself was assaulting him. Touching the thorns was unavoidable. His skin was on fire after the first few steps, and tiny pools of blood formed all over his body. Gretel was bleeding, too. But not Ceara, since her cloak shielded her from the thickets.
Gretel shoved her elbow into his ribcage. “It’s rude not to introduce yourself.”
“It’s rude to call someone else rude,” Hansel retorted. To his relief, he saw the light of the moon streaking through the overgrowth ahead. The three of them shimmied their way through the final layer of hanging briar and back into the woods. Hansel sucked in a breath of air. It tasted clean, crisp and cold, instead of stagnant and sour. Leaving the thickets was like taking a plunge into the river on the hottest day in summer. His muscles loosened and he strapped his bow on his back. They weren’t home, but they were safe.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, until they could see The Path. When they passed a tall tree, Ceara stopped and placed her palm on its trunk, admiring it. And when they reached a particularly tall tree, she stopped.
“Have you ever wondered why the trees shed their leaves in the winter?” she asked. “I don’t know about you two, but when it starts to get cold, I put more clothes on. I certainly don’t get naked and stand in the middle of the forest.” Her thought was interrupted by the sound of hooves in the distance.
Hansel squinted, looking off into the distance. Before he saw anything, Ceara tackled him to the ground. He mumbled an angry demand for explanation, but Ceara shushed him, pointing.
Five horses raced across the worn trail that cut through the wood. The horsemen were spots of light in the gray-brown haze of early winter. They wore gold and white—the colors of the Eastern region, Rapunzel’s territory. When they passed in front of him, he noted their tunics were dirty and their swords drawn. After they disappeared behind a wall of pale trees, he stood and brushed himself off.
“Why did you do that?” he asked.
Ceara shook the leaves from her cloak. “They’re tracking The Wolf.”
“So?” Hansel asked.
“You don’t want them to spot you anywhere near him,” Ceara replied. “All three regions are out for his head.”
“We’re friends of Rapunzel,” Hansel said. “She knows we hunt here. No harm would come to any of us.”
Ceara’s eyes widened emphatically. She closed her cloak over her bodice, her wicker basket producing the illusion of pregnancy. “It doesn’t matter.”
Gretel stepped between them, taking charge of the conversation. “Why are all three regions after him?”
“They think he’s the one who’s committed all the murders,” Ceara said. She leaned in close, even though there wasn’t another soul in sight.
“Murders?” Gretel asked.
“You haven’t heard?”
The word murder made Hansel cringe. He felt cold and vulnerable with it floating in the air around him. “We need to keep going. It will be dark soon.”
The girls followed him, but they hunched over like housewives in the market square, gossiping among themselves.
“What murders?” Gretel repeated.
“There’ve been murders all across Grimm for weeks. Close to twenty of them, at least!”
“I have no words.” Gretel shook her head. “There’s never been anything like this in Grimm. Not since…”
“Gothel,” Ceara finished her sentence. “I know.”
After graduating with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida in 2017, Weston Sullivan moved to New York City to live and write in the heart of the industry. In late 2016, he began working as an intern in the submissions department of BookFish Books. His short story, "On the Hillside", won the Anspaugh Award for Fiction in February of 2017, and his novel, JUST OFF THE PATH, is due for release in early September. He likes to believe that he is in charge of his own destiny, but at the end of the day, he knows that he was born to serve his two beloved cats.
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