Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hansel and Gretel v. Agatha Hexe

This was a fractured attempt at a fractured fairy tale. Maybe I should have gone with my other idea, "the Little Siren" and her quest for stealing a human soul. Too late now! Court is in session.

“All stand. Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Honorable Judge Richter presiding. God save the King and this honorable court.” With the bailiff’s announcement, the stern-faced judge entered the courtroom and strode quickly to his seat on the raised dais. After settling into his chair he peered at the documents on the wooden lectern before him, lifting up the top sheet to glance at some of the details on the next beneath, then squinted out at the persons in the court.

The plaintiffs were too young adults, a muscular boy who might be thought a man if not for the sparse and irregular nature of his short beard (if one could call it that), and a fetching young girl just recently blossomed into womanhood. Their similar faces, matching flaxen hair, and piercing blue eyes hinted at their relation. Next to them sat their barrister, a bald man with a sharp hooked nose. His name was Klager, the judge knew.

Judge Richter glanced at the defense attorney, a dark-haired man with angular edges to his jaw and an intense nature to his stare. Richter knew him also; he was a man by the name of Gerech. He represented the Crown.

The judge sighed in anticipation of the oncoming tedium of court business, and intoned, “Now hearing the matter in the case Hansel and Gretel Holzfaller v. Agatha Hexe. I have reviewed the petition filed by the plaintiff and wish to dispense with opening remarks. Call your first witness.”

“The plaintiff would like to call Hans Holzfaller, the father of Hansel and Gretel, to the stand.”

A stout man with a rich reddish-blond beard timidly made his way to the witness stand. After swearing to testify truly, he stared meekly at the ground while slowly wringing his hands. He would glance up sharply when asked a question, then shift his gaze back at his feet to quietly give his answer.

“Your name for the court, please,” began the attorney.

“Hans Holzfaller.”

“And what do you do as an occupation, Mr. Holzfaller?”

“Well, I’m a woodcutter.”

“Do you do well as a woodcutter, Mr. Holzfaller?”

“Not so well, no, sir. I cut wood as much as I can but it’s hard to sell enough to pay for bread enough to feed the family. Many nights we just go hungry.”

The defense attorney shot up from his seat. “Objection, Your Honor! What does this line of questioning have to do with the matter between Madame Hexe and the plaintiffs?”

Mr. Klager raised his hands defensively. “I am merely expositing for the court the situation that brought my clients into the Deep Woods, of which the issue of hunger plays a primary role.”

“Fine, Mr. Klager,” Judge Richter said, rolling his eyes, “but please get on with it more quickly.”

“Yes, Your Honor. Mr. Holzfaller, how many are in your family?”

“I have two children by my first wife. First, little Hansel, my boy, and then Gretel, my darling, named after her mother Margaret. Margie died giving birth to Gretel. A few years ago I married my wife Frieda.”

“And the money that you make from the sale of firewood is not sufficient for feeding the four members of your family?”

“No, sir. I can barely cut enough to feed two as ‘tis.”

“How does your wife, Frieda, feel about that?”

“She don’t like it none too good. She’s always tellin’ me that I need to put the kids to work to help with the cuttin’.”

“Your wife advocates child labor, Mr. Holzfaller?”


“Sustained,” nodded Judge Richter.

“I’ll rephrase the question, Your Honor. How do you feel about her suggestions, Mr. Holzfaller?”

“It’s too dangerous, I say. Even if not for the evils in the woods, they might injure themselves cuttin’ the wood. ‘Sides, I think kids should have a chance to be kids.”

“And your wife accepts that?”

Hans wrung his hands and looked off to the side. “Well, she did, but then we’s doin’ real bad for several weeks, an’ so she insisted we take them out into the woods to help with the cuttin’.”

“And did you?”

“Yup, twice. Second time’s the one where they’s got lost.”

“Thank you, Mr. Holzfaller. No further questions, Your Honor.”

Gerech stood up for his cross examination.

“Mr. Holzfaller, your son Hansel is now how many years of age?”

“Sixteen, sir.”

“Sixteen. Many young men have an apprenticeship by that age. At what point do you believe he might be old enough to take on duties in your work?”

“Well, when he’s a bit older.”

“How do your neighbors feel about your son?”

“I don’t have many neighbors. We live way out on the edge of Finn Wood.”

“But surely there’s others who come in contact with your family. Have they ever complained to you about Hansel?”

“Yeah, a couple.”

“What did they complain to you about?”

“Oh, any time somethin’ goes wrong ‘round there they blame it on poor Hansel. Somebody’s window done broke? Hansel did it, they say. Somebody’s sled gone missing? Hansel stole it, they say. I don’t understand it.”

“You don’t think your son could do any of those things?”

“Well, no sir. My Hansel is a good boy. You should see how sweet he is to his little sister. He looks out for her.”

“One more question, Mr. Holzfaller. In your view, is your son violent?”

“Why, no,” exclaimed the woodcutter, looking up with wide eyes. “Hansel wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

“Thank you for keeping it short, Mr. Gerech,” said Judge Richter. “Do you have a counter-witness?”

“Yes, Your Honor. The Crown calls Frieda Holzfaller to the stand.”

An middle-aged woman with black hair and pearl skin approached the witness stand. After taking her oath, she turned her wide face, marked well with lines from sun and age, toward Gerech, waiting expectantly for the first question.

“Mrs. Holzfaller, could you please share with the Court the situation that led to Hansel and Gretel becoming lost in the woods?”

Frieda took a deep breath and her gaze fell down into her lap. She set her jaw and then looked back up sternly. “Hans spoils the children. He always has, and I’ve always told him so. Did the best I could to establish some order in their lives, but I get no support. The two of them run amok in the woods, getting into all sorts of trouble, but Hans never lays a hand on them. Meanwhile, we’re all starving. It’s only reasonable, says I, that children nearly grown as they help out with the business. My husband doesn’t seem to see how old they are; they still sleep in the same bed they have since I married Hans, for heaven’s sake! But at sixteen, Hansel’s a terrible strong lad, he could chop as much or more than his father even without the experience my husband has at woodcutting.

“Not that Hansel ever would. I know that for certain because the first time we took them out in the woods he never lifted a finger. He spent the whole morning arguing with us. Telling us the work would be too taxing on Gretel. Not that he offered to help carry any of the tools. Spent the whole trip tossing rocks at the trees to scare squirrels and birds.

“When I asked him to stop, he just smiled at me. Said he was looking for his little white bird.”

“His little white bird?” asked Gerech. “Does he own a pet bird?”

“He used to. A little songbird my husband bought for Gretel and him. Then one day it turned up missing. We found some blood spatters and white feathers in the woods. Reckoned that it got loose and the animals got it. I wasn’t sure at the time, but I got the distinct impression that at the mention of the bird he was threatening me.”

“That you would end up like the bird?”

“Exactly. It freaked me out a little. Hansel can be intimidating. So I left him alone. When we got out to where Hans would be working for the day, Hansel just sat down in a clearing with his sister and refused to work. He even took some of the first logs we cut to make a fire for the two of them while we kept working. By the end of the day the two of them had fallen asleep. I’d had enough of it. Figured they deserved a night out in the woods, so I refused to let Hans wake them when it was time to go. Just left them there in the clearing. They showed up the next morning, angry as hornets. We got into an argument. Hansel slapped me then left. He kicked open the gate and broke the latch on his way out.

“After that, we did all right for a few weeks. Even scraped enough wood together to trade the smith for a new gate lock and a matching one for the door. Felt more secure at night with those. But we still didn’t have enough money for food. So one day I convinced Hans to try to get the kids to come out and help us again.

“Hansel kept hanging back the whole way, casually tossing pieces of bread along the path. We had argued that morning about needing him to work to get more food. So wasting food was his way of defying the importance of the bread. Even though that was the only meal the damned fool and his sister would be getting that day. When I confronted him about it, he leered at me and said he was just looking for his little white cat.”

“Like he had said with the bird earlier?” inquired Gerech again.

“Yes. A while after the bird, my husband gave the children a little white kitten born to the neighbor’s rat-catcher. In a few weeks it also turned up missing. We found its remains in the woods. Hans said it had been torn apart by animals, but that never sat well with me. I think Hansel and Gretel tortured it.”

“That’s a heavy accusation, Mrs. Holzfaller. What makes you say that?” interrupted the judge.

“Animals eat the things they kill,” replied Frieda. “And the way he leered at me when he talked about looking for it. It seemed like he was threatening to have me end up like the cat. I didn’t like it one bit so I spent the rest of the hike up front with my husband. Like the first time, Hansel and Gretel simply stole from the day’s work to build a fire in a clearing while we chopped wood. They fell asleep and we left them out in the woods again as a lesson to them. When they didn’t show up the next morning, Hans was worried to death. He went out looking for them, but never found them.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Holzfaller, for your testimony. No further questions, Your Honor.” Gerech returned to his seat.

Hansel and Gretel’s lawyer rose for the cross-examination. “Mrs. Holzfaller,” he began, “did you suggest to your husband the evenings previous to the two trips out in the woods with my clients that he force them to join you in the woods so that you and your husband would not starve?”

“Yes. I figured that with their help we could chop enough wood to feed all of us.”

“I see. And do you have any proof other than your own suspicions that my clients could in any way be responsible for the death of their pets?”

“No, sir, but—”

“Thank you, Mrs. Holzfaller. Our next witness is Hansel Holzfaller.”

Hansel looked relaxed in the witness stand. A slight smile played about the corner of his lips as he looked at the faces in the courtroom, the sort of grin one makes when enjoying a private joke whilst not wanting to tip off the straight man.

“Hansel, I’d like to give you an opportunity to explain to the court how you ended up in Agatha Hexe’s cottage.”

“Well, it’s all rather simple, really. After Frieda forced us to march out into the woods with Father, my sister was crying something terrible. Like me, she had heard Frieda tell Father the night before that it would be better for us to leave so they could have enough food for themselves. So she was afraid we’d be abandoned again. I tried to comfort her as best as I could, and built her a little fire against the cold.

“I guess we fell asleep, because when we awoke it was dark. Father and Frieda were no where to be found. I started to lead Gretel back home, but I must have gotten turned around in the dark and the next thing I knew we were wandering around lost.

“About mid-morning the next day the woods still weren’t looking familiar, and we were very hungry. We hadn’t eaten anything the day before.

“Then all of a sudden, we started smelling gingerbread. It smelled so good it made our stomachs growl loudly. We laughed and started following the smell to see where it came from. And we found this creepy old cottage there in the woods. We didn’t know who owned the cottage but we were so hungry we decided to see if they’d give us some food. We were so tired and hungry, and the smell of gingerbread so great, that it was almost as if the wood of the cottage were gingerbread. I have to admit, I gnawed on it a bit just in case, and Gretel licked a window to see if it was made of sugar.” He smiled sheepishly as some titters rippled across the courtroom, then continued his story.

“About then we noticed a plate of cakes and cookies on the porch. We were so hungry we just dug right in. We probably shouldn’t have, but after having not eaten and trudging through the woods all day, our stomachs were doing the thinking for us.

“Then the old witch came out on the porch. She invited us in for tea and more cakes. She was a scary looking lady and Gretel didn’t want to go, but I thought it’d be grand to get some more free food. Didn’t realize the old hag didn’t just look like a witch but was one. When she got us inside around the table, she cast some sort of spell and I blacked out. When I woke up she had me locked in a cage. Kept me imprisoned there while she made Gretel cook more food. Said she was fattening me up to eat me, the old hag, but whenever she asked to feel my arm to see if I was getting good marbling, I’d just give her the finger.” He grinned, jutting his chin out defiantly.

“Just when I’d about given up hope of ever getting out of there alive, Gretel burst into the room yelling that she’d trapped the witch in her oven. She broke me out of the cage. We grabbed the witch’s jewelry box on the way out, figured it payback for attempting to eat us. And that way we could feed Father and Frieda, too. And then we just ran like the dickens to get out of there.

“But a woodsman stopped us not far into the forest. Said he’d gotten a message from the witch that she had been robbed, and forced us to return to the cabin with him. When he found her dead in the oven, he marched us to the local magistrate. But Gretel and I hadn’t done anything wrong, so we filed suit against the magistrate to get back the jewels he confiscated. The old woman owes us damages after all the suffering she put us through, making Gretel slave in that kitchen for weeks and scaring me near to death with threats of eating me while she kept me in that cage.

“That witch was gonna kill and eat us both. She should at least pay for us to eat now that she’s dead.”

Krager nodded approvingly. “Thank you, Hansel. I believe it’s clear to the court that you and your sister defended yourself as you must, and deserve not only recompense for the physical and emotional damage you suffered under Agatha Hexe, but also the commendation of this kingdom for ridding Finn Wood of a dangerous witch. No further questions, Your Honor.”

Gerech stood and cleared his throat. For a moment he stood staring darkly at Hansel. Then he asked the first question of his cross-examination.

“Hansel, how tall are you?”

“Six feet and a bit, sir,” replied Hansel, lifting his chin proudly.

“And how much do you weigh?”

“Almost thirteen stone.”

“I see. Then can you explain to me how Agatha Hexe, a woman of over three score years and a height of less than five feet, who suffered a terrible limp that forced her to walk with a cane, forced and locked you into a cage?”

“She was a witch, sir. She used a spell to knock me out. I don’t know how she moved me.” He shrugged. “Maybe she levitated me or something.”

“But you never saw her cast any spells?”

“Didn’t need to. Felt the effects well enough when I woke up in the cage. And the house was full of all sorts of evil objects and books. The whole thing should be burned down.”

Gerech pounced on the opportunity Hansel had presented him. “That being the case, after your sister freed you, why did the two of you poke about looking for jewels? If it had been me who had just spent a week locked in a witch’s cottage, I think I would have run as fast as my legs can carry me.”

Hansel glowered at the attorney for a brief second, then looked at the ceiling. “I guess so would I, but when you’re right there in the situation sometimes you do something stupid. I don’t know, but at the time, the main thing on my mind was that I couldn’t show back up at Father’s house without something to help out with feeding the family, and that the witch ought to pay for holding us.”

“You weren’t concerned that she would get out of the oven and capture you again? A powerful witch who can knock you out and levitate you across the room?”

“I, uh… I knew she was dead.”

“How’d you know that?”

“She screamed something awful when Gretel locked her in the oven, but then she stopped. What else should I think? We grabbed the jewels and got out of there.”

“How long did she scream?”

“I don’t know. A while.”

“Was she still screaming when you picked up the jewelry box?”

“Yes. A little.”

“So you felt it was safe enough to go looking for jewels, while Agatha, trapped in a heated oven, screamed in agony from pain as she died?”

“The witch got what was coming to her,” Hansel growled. “She would’ve cooked Gretel the same way. The way I see it, she still owes us.”

Gerech nodded. “No further questions, Your Honor. As our counter-witness, I would like to call to the stand the woodsman that Hansel mentioned, Mr. Martin Dexmachten.”

Martin Dexmachten turned out to be a swarthy man in leather clothing. He was obviously a man of the outdoors.

“Martin Dexmachten,” Gerech began, “you are a recipient of the King’s Medallion, are you not?”

“I am, sir.”

“Could you please tell the court briefly how you came to receive that honor, as a reference to your character?”

“I try to look out for people in Finn Wood. A couple of years ago this man tried to rape a little girl. He had spotted her walking in the woods wearing her bright red cloak. He befriended her on the trail and found out she was going to her grandmother’s cottage. Then he ran on ahead in order to accost the grandmother and bind her up in her closet. Then he dressed up in the old woman’s clothes, the pervert. I overheard the girl’s screams when he tried to assault her in the cabin and busted in to defend her. He came at me with a knife and I ended up killing him with my hatchet. After setting the grandmother free, I reported the incident to the authorities. Turns out this wasn’t his first time at raping little girls, and he killed them afterwards. I was proud to have stopped a wolf of a man like that. I was nominated for a Medallion and later honored by the King.”

“So do you still see yourself as a protector for those in the woods?”

“Well, I do what I can for those in the places I wander. I look in on people and make sure they’re doing all right.”

“Had it been your habit to look in on Agatha Hexe?”

“I’ve known Mrs. Hexe for several years now. She’s a wonderful lady. She always invites me in for tea and hot scones. She makes ‘em fresh, and they’re real good after a morning’s hike out to her remote place. I took to bringing her any mail she had from town, and she started giving me bags of goodies to bring by the orphanage or any kids in Finn Wood. She loved children and the delight they have in sweets. She even left fresh cookies on the porch in case children ever came by. I always joked with her that way out in the woods nobody but me and the birds ever got to enjoy those cookies, but then she’d get a far-off look in her eyes and would talk about how her grandchildren had loved eating cookies on the porch. I don’t know for sure, but the way she talked about them I don’t think they’re living anymore, or maybe they left the country. I know she doesn’t have any family in the region.”

“Tell me how you ran into Hansel and Gretel Holzfaller outside of her cottage.”

“Well, I had given Mrs. Hexe one of my pigeons in case she ever needed to get a message to me in a hurry. So a couple days before the incident in question, I stopped by my own little cabin and found that she had sent a note. It read, ‘Help! Come quickly my house was invaded by robbers but I captured one of them.’ Here, I brought it for the court.” He reached into his vest and produced a small strip of paper. He handed it to Judge Richter, who read it, and then nodded for the woodsman to continue.

“So I grabbed my pack together as soon as possible and headed out to her cottage to help. It takes a day and a half to make it all the way out to her place. Just as I was getting there, I bumped into those two kids. They were carrying some things I knew belonged to Mrs. Hexe, so I stopped them. They claimed they had been attacked by her and she had plans to eat them. I knew that had to be nonsense so I made them go back with me to see if she was all right.” He paused.

Gerech gently pressed him, “Was she all right?”

Martin shook his head. “No. When we got inside, I smelled burned flesh. I followed the stench into the kitchen where I found her charred body in the oven. She had been roasted alive. The kids tried to make a break for it but I grabbed them and marched them back to the magistrate.”

“So you didn’t think that Agatha Hexe had attempted to fatten up and eat Hansel and Gretel?”

The woodsman stared incredulously at Gerech before slowly replying. “No, I think Hansel and Gretel Holzfaller killed Mrs. Hexe in order to rob her.”

Gerech smiled at his opponent on the other side of the courtroom. “Your witness, Mr. Klager.”

“Mr. Dexmachten, we pay respect to the honor due you as a recipient of the Medallion, but aside from that recognition, are you an official representative of the Crown in any form?”

“No, sir. I’m just a simple woodsman.”

“How long ago was it that you received the Medallion?”

“Six years ago, sir.”

“People mention it much when they see you?”

The woodsman shook his head. “Well, no sir, I think most people have forgotten about it by now.”

“Ah. Now, do you have any way of proving that Agatha Hexe wrote the note on your carrier pigeon?”

“Well it’s in her handwriting and has her name on the bottom.”

“But how do we know that you didn’t just fabricate the note to make it look like she wrote it?”

“Because I didn’t. I don’t see why I would have any reason to do that.”

“But for all we know, you might have. We have to take your word on the matter. It’s your word against my clients’. The word of a forgotten hero whose fifteen minutes of fame are long passed versus the word of two frightened children with no reason to lie. Speaking of which, did you actually see or hear any of the interaction between my clients and Agatha Hexe?”

“No, I only ran into them as they were running from the cottage.”

“So you don’t know of anything that happened in the cottage?”

Martin Dexmachten frowned at the attorney. “I know that Mrs. Hexe is dead in her own oven, and that she died slowly,” he said.

Klager coughed. “No further questions, Your Honor.”

“You are dismissed, Mr. Dexmachten,” announced Judge Richter. “Mr. Klager, do you have many more witnesses?”

“Just one, Your Honor. I would like to call Gretel Holzfaller to the stand.” After Gretel took her oath, she looked timidly up at her lawyer. Mr. Klager smiled reassuringly. “Gretel, I know it’s hard, but if you could please tell the court about your experience with Agatha Hexe, it would do much to settle this matter.”

Gretel nodded, her thin hair bouncing about her shoulders and back. She took a big breath, which thrust out her newly burgeoning chest. The corners of her eyes glistened with tears as she parted her rosy lips.

“J-just as Hansel said, we were so hungry we just began eating the cakes on the porch. Then the old lady comes out, I was scared to death she looked so mean. But she invited us in for more food and Hansel just followed her. Then when we were eating she knocked us out with her spell. When I woke up she had Hansel in the cage and me in the kitchen. I was so scared!” Tears began flowing out of her eyes. “She said she was going to eat my brother, but I had to fatten him up first. So she made me bake all sorts of scones and cookies to feed him. The way she looked at me, I figured she’d cook me, too, after she’d eaten him.” She sniffled. “So the next day the wood in the oven won’t catch fire. I tell her about it and she starts cackling and starts talking about a ‘pilot light.’ Says I should poke my head into the oven with a match to kindle the ‘pilot light.’ I knew she was just tricking me into getting far enough into the oven that she could cook me, so I told her I couldn’t fit. So she says, ‘Nonsense! I can fit just fine and so can you!’ and I ask her to prove it. ‘I’ll light it myself,’ she says, taking a match and leaning into the oven.” Gretel began bawling. Mr. Klager pulled out his kerchief and handed it her. She dabbed her eyes and then blew her nose before blubbering, “I didn’t know what else to do! She was gonna eat Hansel and me! I was in fear for my life and just wanted to make her stop! So I pushed her in and then latched the oven door shut. I figured she’d just be trapped while me and Hansel escaped, but apparently her match lit the oven because she started screaming. I just ran out to free Hansel. I just had to get him out of there.”

She broke down crying again, burying her face into her hands. Her lawyer nodded to the judge that he had finished. The Crown’s attorney indicated that he had no questions, and so Judge Richter dismissed Gretel from the witness stand. She walked back to her plaintiff’s seat, still sniffling and dabbing her eyes with Mr. Klager’s kerchief.

“Very well,” began Judge Richter, “Since we’ve heard from all the parties involved, I will—”

“Just one moment, Your Honor,” interjected Gerech. “I have a counter-witness.”

“A counter-witness, Mr. Gerech?” asked the judge, blinking. The Holzfallers’ lawyer also looked completely surprised.

“Yes, Your Honor. Up until now we have only heard the version of the events that took place inside Agatha Hexe’s cottage from the mouths of the plaintiffs. Agatha Hexe is dead and cannot defend herself. But there was one other in the cottage: her pet cat.”

“I warn you, Mr. Gerech,” said Judge Richter sternly, “do not make a mockery of these proceedings.”

“I beg the leniency of the court, Your Honor,” Gerech replied with a bow. “Please allow me to call to the witness stand Agatha Hexe’s familiar, Boots.”

A black cat with white paws bounded down the aisle of the courtroom and hopped up onto the wooden banister that formed a box about the witness’s chair, the silver bell hanging from his neck tinkling a bit from the leap. He turned and sat, his yellow eyes staring out into the courtroom.

Mr. Klager stood up and shouted, “Objection, Your Honor! This cat cannot give a testimony!”

“Why?” hissed Boots. “Because you think I cannot speak, or because what I have to say will be damaging to your clients?”

The barrister turned as white as a sheet and then slumped back into his chair. Judge Richter stared at the cat in disbelief. After a few moments, his eyes never leaving Boots, he motioned with his right hand for Gerech to proceed.

Gerech cleared his throat. “Boots, could you please relate to the court your version of the events that took place in the cottage between the Holzfallers and Mrs. Hexe?”

The black cat’s tail twitched back and forth while he spoke. “I was actually the first to see the two of them. Hansel and Gretel Holzfaller, I mean. I was pleasantly sunning myself in the window when they interrupted my nap by stomping all over the porch.

“They were eating the snacks Agatha leaves out for children. I sniffed haughtily, thinking that her silliness had finally paid off in attracting rapscallions onto the porch. I was just about to relocate myself to a quieter place to continue my nap when I noticed the girl staring into Agatha’s window. ‘Hey, Hansel,’ she cried, ‘Look in here. There’s all sorts of jewels and expensive-looking things.’ The boy looked at her and said, ‘Do you want a pearl necklace, my dear? Just say the word and I’ll get one for you.’ The girl’s eyes got all wide and she cried, ‘But what about whoever lives here?’ He just shrugged in response and said, ‘They won’t be living here if they’re dead.’

“My old lady’s a smart one and, though she may be frail and white of hair, her hearing’s nearly as good as mine. She had heard everything they had said out there on the porch, and so she decided to move things into a more favorable position.

“She came out onto the front porch and pretended to be all friendly to the ruffians, inviting them in for some hot tea and scones. The girl and the boy sat down at the table, exchanging secret smiles between the two of them whenever she wasn’t looking. They didn’t think to hide them from me.

“I followed Agatha into the kitchen, curious as to what she was up to. The clever old witch spiked the tea! She brought out a tray laden with all sorts of baked goods, sugar and honey for the tea, and her finest teaset. Nothing spared for her friendly image; the boy and the girl should have gotten suspicious at this, but they probably figured everything was just going their way. They broke right into the food and began downing great gulps of tea. Agatha was quick to refill their cups. Sure enough, after a minute or two they started looking about all bleary-eyed, and a few moments later they both collapsed onto the floor.

“I advised the old lady that she toss the two of them out on their ears, but she disagreed. She thought they’d surely break in and exact revenge when they woke. She insisted on holding them until our friend the woodsman arrived to take them away.

“It took her nearly half an hour to drag that boy across the room into her bird kennel. Before locking him in tight, then took out the only current resident—well, the only avian one, anyway. I was hoping she was finally gonna let me play with that pigeon, but she quickly wrote a note, rolled it up, and tied it to the bird’s leg. After tossing it out the window, she turned her attention to the girl.

“Since the bird kennel wasn’t big enough to hold the both of them, she decided she’d just have to keep the girl busy with cooking in the kitchen. Said the girl could make up for the goodies they’d stolen on the porch by cooking some more. She also had her cook up the meals for herself and the boy while we waited for Martin to show up.

“It all seemed like a good plan until the pilot light went out in the oven. I was sitting up on the windowsill when it all happened. I saw the girl push my old lady into the oven and lock the door. My old lady yelled and banged on the door begging for help. The girl just shouted some obscenities and kicked the oven door in response, then ran out of the room.

“I tried to unlock the door but these paws aren’t any good for that sort of thing. I couldn’t do anything but listen to Agatha scream in pain as the oven grew hotter and hotter. Then I heard the two ruffians coming back so I hopped down off the oven and hid under the table.

“The boy was very pleased with the situation. He laughed and started taunting Agatha from the other side of the door. The girl joined in. Then they both grew quiet for a moment and the table shifted as someone put their weight against it. I peeked my head out and peered up at them and they were kissing. Passionately. My old lady screaming in the oven all the while.

“Then the girl grabbed the boy’s hand and said, ‘Come on, let’s get those jewels out of the bedroom.’ He said, ‘I’ll be happy to take you to the bedroom, sister,’ said it just like that, and then she pulled him out of the kitchen.

“I didn’t see anything after that. If the ruffians would burn my old lady alive like that, then there’s no telling what they’d do to a cat. I decided to take off while I had the chance. I hopped out the window and hid up in a tree the rest of the day.”

Gerech nodded. “Thank you, Boots. Your testimony is most enlightening.” He crossed his arms in satisfaction. “Your witness, Mr. Klager.”

“No, not my witness! Not anyone’s witness! This animal is an unnatural aberration and unable to take an honest oath before God in this court. His testimony should be struck from the record and the cat itself should be drowned!”

Boots hissed at the rat-faced lawyer and quickly jumped off the stand and made a beeline for the door. The bailiff lunged after the black streak but failed to stop him.

Meanwhile, Gerech shot up out of his seat. “What? Boots’s testimony provides the only other perspective of what went on in that cabin!”

Judge Richter looked down sternly upon Gerech. “Be that as it may, the cat’s testimony is inadmissible as evidence, being a familiar to a witch, and so at the end of the day his ability to speak merely corroborates the plaintiff’s case that Agatha Hexe was a witch. Therefore, this Court awards the plaintiffs damages in the amount of half of the jewels they had taken from the late Agatha Hexe’s cottage, the rest of the witch’s possessions to go to the Crown.”

And with a bang of the judge’s gavel, Hansel and Gretel’s version of the story was declared the legal record. Many, many years later another pair of siblings were rummaging through old court records when they happened upon the case file for Hansel and Gretel v. Agatha Hexe. “Oy, Wilhelm,” said the one. “Here’s a case with a witch in the woods who tempted some children into her cottage with sweets so she could eat them. And it’s got a happy ending!”

“Good find, Jakob,” replied the other. “We’ll have to include that one.”