To start at the beginning ...
Gretel shuddered and turned away from the corner in which they had hung. The hook was still there, stuck with royal icing into the ceiling, a piercing reminder of their captivity. Their prison, however now lived at the bottom of a small pond near the cottage. They had broken it apart piece by piece and thrown it into the crystal water - burying their nightmares in the deep.
She was frozen to the spot looking at the tarnished hook sticking out from the ceiling. Gretel could feel the walls closing in on her. She suddenly felt short of breath and dizzy. A rising panic of claustrophobia washed over her. She flung open the oven door. The heat struck her full in the face and her eyes and lungs burned. Behind closed eyes she saw the old lady again - tattered grey cloak, white-streaked hair hanging limply around her wrinkled face and the grey sightless eyes staring blankly at her. She grasped blindly for the tray with her oven mitt and pulled it out. Slamming the oven door closed, she slid the giant cookie onto the cooling rack. Memories washed over her and the haunting sound of the old lady’s tuneless humming filled her head. She heard the door close behind her and she swung around.
Hansel stood at the door. His head was cocked to one side and concern was etched in his face. “Are you okay?”
She wiped her burning eyes on the oven mitt and muttered, “I’m fine. Just the heat. And the hook.”
Her brother took a few steps toward her and reached out a calloused hand. She choked on her tears.
“I think I need some fresh air. I’m going to go for a walk.”
She brushed past him, out into the sunshine and crisp air.
“Don’t talk to any strangers,” she heard Hansel say. She smiled bitterly. Familiar words they had shared over the years - a gentle reminder every time they parted ways. Words of caution they should have heeded years ago, but words they had now coined for comfort. A unifying motto.
But they had been her father’s words first.