They had stumbled out of the darkness one cold winter’s night, a little boy and a little girl, clutching each other for any warmth that their thin little bodies could provide. They had been half-frozen, pale as the snow that had hardened to ice in their hair. She had been terrified at the sight of them and she had immediately carried them off in her arms and brought them inside her warm cottage.
She lived alone within the forest, so she had no husband to grumble about having extra mouths to feed once the children were comfortably settled in her home. And feed them she did, especially during those first few nights when she was frightened that they would just expire before taking their next breaths. She set newly baked bread and warm milk before them, but they did not move so she had given them the food with her own hands, clucking like a worried mother hen. They took a few bites then the little girl, in a heartbreaking soft voice, asked if they could rest because they were so tired. She led them to her own bed and tucked them in snugly, then she prayed to the Lord that they would not come to harm while they were under her care. She wondered what had happened to their parents and she resolved to ask them about it the next morning.
The tale they told chilled her heart. Apparently, their father had married a woman who had not only disliked them but treated them badly as well. Their cruel stepmother had convinced their own father to leave them to die in the forest and they had wandered hopelessly until they had come upon her cottage by accident. She resolved then that she would look after them as if they were her own. Over the next few days, she kept feeding them because she could not bear to see the pallor in their cheeks and the frailty of their bones. She cooked salted meats and baked sweet pastries and she offered them all to the children. They nibbled at the delicious meals then asked to be excused. She despaired at their lack of appetite and she never stopped worrying that they would become sick.
The children continued to look pale and thin as winter wore on, but she never stopped trying to get them to eat. Most of her hours were spent cooking treats that she hoped would tempt them. However, she only ended up consuming most of the food herself and she noted with some amusement that she had gained a few more curves while her little foundlings were as delicate-looking as ever. She was growing very fond of them. They were ever so polite and so helpful around the cottage, doing chores even though she never asked them to, and she often wondered how their father could have agreed to drive them away.
This pleasant state of affairs would have gone on for she knew not how long until the day she accidentally cut herself while preparing their supper. The children had been in the little kitchen with her, and they had both quickened in surprise when she gave a pained cry. As she fussed over the small wound on her finger, she did not notice as the children crept closer and closer until they could see the bright beads of red blood that dripped from her cut. Their dark eyes followed the drip of the blood as it pooled on the floor and then, to her complete horror, they dropped to their hands and knees and began licking up the red fluid. She screamed a negation and they stopped what they were doing, looking frightened and sorry. Yet she could not help but note that their cheeks were now flushed with color and they looked—less thin, somehow.
They did not eat the supper she had prepared, and they did not eat breakfast or lunch the next day either. When evening came, she decided on a course of action that terrified her yet she justified it with the affection she felt for the children. Wincing, she cut herself again and let her blood drop onto the food she was cooking. Her hands were shaking when she set the meal before them but, to her surprise, they both perked up and began to eat. In the next few days, she added her blood to all the food she gave the children, and they ate everything she set before them on the table. They slowly began to look fatter and happier, and the little cottage rang with the warmth of their laughter even amidst the coldest winter storms.
Time passed and spring began dawning on the forest. She saw signs that men were foraging in the woods once more and she warned the children never to wander far from the cottage. She was afraid of what would happen if others were to find out what they liked to eat. She was even more frightened at the thought of what brigands could do to the children. They were her little ones now, and she would never let anything harm them.
One night, they were spending a quiet time by the fire when the door burst open and a man stalked in. By the look of him, he was a rogue and he laughed as he grabbed her and kicked the children away from him. She screamed as she felt him rip away her robes and prayed to the heavens to save them. As she steeled herself to be violated, the intruder gave a strangled yell and suddenly collapsed on top of her. She pushed him away and her eyes widened when she saw the children, the little girl gripping a bloodied knife and the boy holding a poker. They rushed to embrace her and she sobbed in gratitude that they were safe. Then they left her arms and went to stare at the man’s corpse and, as one, they fell upon him like ravenous wolves.
As she watched them, she saw how beautiful they were and her heart swelled with love. They were her children now and she would do whatever it took to take care of them. After they had fully consumed the man, she cleaned the mess they had made, buried the bones, and gave them hot baths. Then she told them that they would be moving to town. She wanted them to make friends. They smiled and said they could not wait to meet other people.
- The End -