From somewhere behind her, Gretel heard a rustle in the undergrowth. She paused for a moment, peering over her shoulder. She saw nothing but the overgrown evergreens and scrub brush. She listened for a moment, but heard nothing more. From overhead she heard the chittering of a squirrel gazing down at her from a branch.
“Did you hear something, little fellow?” she asked the striped critter, “Any strangers in the forest today?”
The tree squirrel chattered animatedly, holding a single acorn in his paws.
“Keep an eye out for me, won’t you?” She curtsied playfully and set out again. She ducked under an low hanging branch, pushing it up with both hands.
There it was again. The breaking of a twig underfoot. Gretel paused again and absently fingered the ribbon of one of her braids in her hand. In the silence that followed, she stepped carefully over a moss covered rock and continued along the path, keeping her ears open and listening. This time she heard a swish of fabric and she froze.
Another disturbance behind her, a rustling of leaves and a snapping of a twig. She turned slowly and looked behind her, wide eyed and afraid. At first she didn’t see anything but the blending of blues, greens and browns in the trees and bushes behind her. But then she spotted it. A grey cloak just on the other side of a large fir tree. The owner shuffled in place and swayed a bit. Gretel could not see the face below the hood of the cloak, but still her veins turned to ice and her heart hammered in her chest.
Impossible. Ol’ Lady Grimble was dead. As gruesome as it had been to push the evil witch into that oven inferno, both Hansel and Gretel had agreed that they had no other choice. As they had swung in that cage in the corner of the cottage, they had decided together that their only chance of escape was to do away with the old lady. And they had been successful. So, no. This cloaked figure could not be the old witch. But Gretel could not convince her heart of what her head firmly knew. And so she ran.