Hansel and Gretel.

There are times when I really hate this job, the things you have to see, the stories you hear, the dark places it takes you to.
Most of the time, I know not to engage, not to listen too carefully, not to buy into the sob stories that come as part of the territory.
But sometimes, just sometimes, even when you think you’ve been careful, kept the boundaries, observed the rules, a bit of someone else’s shabby little life worms its way into your dreams, your nightmares.

I knew this was going to be a bad one, right from when we got the call, 2 minors, reported missing, maybe abducted months ago, dead old lady and of course the parents claiming innocence.

You think you’ve seen everything in this job, but I tell you straight, this one, this one was weird.

For a start off, there’s the house, barley sugar railings, toffee roof, gingerbread walls or at least painted to look that way, but really convincing. I could see my colleague do a double take, he stretched out his hand when he thought I wasn’t looking, touched the railings, casually licks his finger, the fool.

What kind of weirdo decorates their house to look like some kind of cake?

Answer, the kind of weirdo who wants children to knock on their door of course.

For a few seconds I wondered if the Childcatcher had changed his MO, stopped being mobile, but then I remembered that he was still banged up after the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang caper.

So, this was a new perp, another sicko on our patch of the enchanted forest. I sighed, took out my notebook, went off to interview the kids, the innocent victims in all of this.

And that’s where it started getting a really dark and let’s face it, I know dark.
The kids, boy and a girl were siting on a rock, just staring at all the uniforms and the officials, but blank faced, typical victims, or so I thought and then they both turned and looked at me and I tell you,I felt my soul go cold.

But, I’m an experienced investigator, so I ignored the hairs on the back of my neck and I started the questions.
The kids were plain, almost ugly, the girl was thin, stringy, mousey hair scraped back, she had that wirey strength you see sometimes. She reminded me of one of those worker ants, the ones that can carry 10 times their own weight.
The boy was completely different, soft, doughy, his eyes hidden in folds of fat. He was so pale that I could almost imagine him actually made of uncooked bread.

I tried to hide my prejudices, fat kids, plain kids, they could be victims too. My job was to get the story down, reunite them with their family, set up a happy ever after.

So, the kids told their story, it was all the usual stuff;
Lost in the forest
House made of cake
Slave labour
Possible cannibalism

Like I said, same old, same old , although this one had a few twists, seemed this perp was a feeder too and unlike most of the victims we rescued, these two had taken things into their own hands, didn’t feel like they needed rescuing at all.

In fact, by the time we rolled up, well lets just say that their perp was quite literally toast. Forensics were creaming themselves, nothing they like more than a really complicated stiff.

So, I kept on with my questions and for a while it seemed that the kids didn’t want to say why they were wandering in the unfashionable end of the magic woods, but part of me could feel the manipulation, the double bluff.
They wanted, needed me to know the whole saga, but they also wanted to be good little boys and girls, not the sort who rat on their parents soon as look at them.

So, I got the sorry story….the starving family, the wicked stepmother, the abandonment , not once but twice, the piteous trail of stones and finally the tragic waifs falling asleep in the forest.

But, I could feel another story, not as straightforward, not the one the children wanted me to hear, I guessed it went something like this;

A remarried husband
A starving family, all stories have some truth in them
Stepchildren, quick to judge, to complain
A second marriage faltering
Desperate measures

I never got to hear her version, the wicked stepmother.
The father appeared at the crime scene, very much alone, very much the grieving parent.
Scooped up his children, headed back to the lonely woodcutters’ cottage.

Both of them stared at me from over his shoulder, faces blank, careful, considering.

I walked back to the station, handed in my badge, lost my taste for gingerbread.


About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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