I missed last week's post because I was tied up with my day job all weekend, so this week, you have a bumper issue of the story--double what I've been posting.
Remember, if you've missed any part of the story, you can find it on my website on the Free Stories page.
It wasn’t long before the tingling in Tristan’s hands stopped and he could finally move. He staggered over to help Andrew onto his feet.
“How’s your head?” he asked as he gently probed Andrew’s skull. “You hit it pretty hard when you fell.”
Andrew brushed him off. “I’m fine.” He reeled, tripped over his own feet and made a lucky landing on one of the chairs. “Fuck. What did she hit me with?”
“Petrification spell. It’s a gremlin specialty. They’ve probably been practising it since they learned to walk.” He glanced at Hansel as he spoke but the gremlin was still staring, fuming at the door his sister walked through. He nibbled on gingerbread, each bite cutting into the scowl on his face so that his expression swung comically from anger to ecstasy with each piece. “We got one of them,” he said, although one was as useless as none.
“Does that mean you can break the spells and escape?” Andrew filled a glass with water from the ever-present jug on the table and drank as if he’d been in a desert for years.
Tristan spun his glass around, the rocking of glass on wood loud in the silence. “No. I can’t even weaken it.”
Andrew’s shoulders slumped. “So everything we did was useless.” He glared at the cage. “Can he use his powers?”
“No, that’s holding. He’s as helpless as any human in there.”
“And just as useless.” Andrew’s glass clattered against the table as he slammed it down. “We might as well let him go, then.”
Tristan leaned forward, his elbows on the table, and buried his face in his hands. “We can’t.” He peered at Andrew through his fingers. “Gremlins have terrible tempers. If we release him, he’ll attack and there’s nothing I can do to protect us.”
“Won’t your Mistress’s spells stop him hurting you? Doesn’t she control the house?”
“We broke the rules when we captured him. The house will still provide for us but it won’t protect us from him anymore since we wronged him.”
Andrew stood, his chair clattering to the floor behind him. “So what was the point of all that? You still can’t get out and you’ve lost whatever protection you had. And we have to keep him prisoner.”
A low growl emanated from the cage and Tristan and Andrew swung to find Hansel glaring at them. His arms were shoved through the bars, fingers extended, reaching for them. His chest bumped against the bars and fizzing light arced through the room. Hansel jumped back with a howl.
“You bastard. Just you wait until I get out. You’ll fry!”
“What was that?” Andrew’s voice was filled with awe. Or perhaps that was fear.
“Lightning spell. Gremlins don’t like it.” As he spoke Hansel batted at his shoulders. When he finished, his shirt had two vertical black burns, exactly where he’d touched the bars.
“Holy shit. It burned him.”
“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt either of us: it’s specifically designed for gremlins.”
“I get that they’re nasty buggers but why would anyone design spells that only work on gremlins. Apart from the whole wanting-to-fry-you thing, he seems nice enough.”
As Andrew spoke, Hansel’s face morphed from a bad-tempered scowl to an ingratiating smile. “That’s exactly right,” he simpered. “I know we haven’t always treated Master Tristan well, but Mistress Osborne pinches us dreadfully when we’re kind to him.” The simper turned into a whine.
Tristan rolled his eyes. The gremlins might be as bound to the mistress as he was, but he knew they enjoyed their work. He broke off a large piece of gingerbread and tossed it to Hansel. The gremlin caught it deftly as it sailed between the bars, sat and began eating ravenously.
“Shouldn’t you give him something a bit healthier to eat?” asked Andrew.
“Gingerbread is the best thing for them. It has all the nutrients they need to maintain good health. That’s one of the reasons Mistress Osborne rations them. With every bite, they grow stronger; she doesn’t want either of them in a position to overwhelm her if her hold over them fails.”
“Why feed him so much then? Isn’t he going to be stronger than ever when he finally gets out of the cage.”
“The way I see it is he’s stuck there for the duration. It wouldn’t matter if we starved him, once he left the cage, I still couldn’t fight against his type of magic. The only way to truly control gremlins is through blood magic and I won’t do that. Whatever happens afterwards, the least we can do is make his stay as comfortable as possible.” As he spoke, Tristan gestured. Inside the cage, there appeared a small white bed piled high with fat cushions and fluffy quilts. A matching nightstand popped up beside it, with several books piled on top. In one corner of the cage, a deep enamel bath materialised with a pile of soft towels beside it. In the middle of the cage a small firepit sputtered to life, along with a small table and chair. On the other side of the nightstand, an overstuffed armchair with a fluffy throw appeared with a soft pop.
Hansel looked around the space and cried out with delight. He surged to his feet and took a flying leap at the bed. He bounced once onto the cushions then burrowed his way underneath. The sounds of joy that burst from the moving mound made Tristan smile.
Andrew watched Hansel’s antics with the cushions for a while, a smile growing, then he turned back to Tristan. “What’s going to happen when Gretel gets back with the mistress?”
Tristan waved his hand one last time and the remaining gingerbread in front of them disappeared and reappeared on Hansel’s little table. The gremlin squealed and shot out of the cushions. He landed neatly on his feet, like a master gymnast, and raced to the table.
“Mistress Osborne won’t come here, regardless of any argument Gretel puts forward.” At Andrew’s confused look, he continued. “Her magic is the same type as mine. Once she enters this house, we’ll be on equal footing. She’ll have lost her advantage. She won’t take the chance that I’ve become stronger than her, and she won’t risk the chance that the gremlins will support me and turn against her.”
“Would they do that?”
Tristan shrugged. “Possibly, if I could guarantee that Mistress Osborne’s hold over them would be broken.” He leaned against the table, his hip close to Andrew’s shoulder. He wanted to slide closer, but held his position. If Andrew was interested, he could move.
“Will Gretel return on her own?” asked Andrew, sitting back in his seat, putting more space between them.
Tristan released a tiny sigh of disappointment, then dragged his mind back to the topic. “Of course. Hansel is her brother. Her magic is halved without him. The mistress will insist on it too. She wants access to their full powers.”
Andrew stood and surveyed Hansel who was now lounging against the cushions on his bed, the bowl of gingerbread beside him, reading a book. “If you have both of them, could you break free?” he asked on a whisper.
Did Andrew and Tristan manage to trap Hansel and Gretel in the cage, or are they exposed and helpless? Find out in the next instalment of The Gingerbread House.
Tristan watched in horror as the Hansel and Gretel flung out their spells toward him and Andrew. He’d hoped they wouldn’t notice Andrew at all and be captured in the cage as it fell, but nothing went the way they planned.
Andrew lay motionless on the floor, perhaps alive, perhaps dead, Tristan couldn’t tell from where he stood. His feet were stuck to the floor and every muscle in his body frozen solid. He could breathe, but shallowly, as if there was a vice squeezing his chest. He could blink, but not swallow. A dribbled of saliva trickled and cooled on its way down his chin.
In front of him, securely in the cage, paced Hansel. Gretel, after her one disastrous attempt at freeing her brother, was at the table, stuffing her face with gingerbread. She tore each piece roughly off the slab, dipped it in the icing glaze, then stuffed it into her mouth with the rest of the half-masticated sweet.
“Gretel! Get over here and let me out,” yelled Hansel.
Gretel shook her head. “Can’t.”
“He has no power over us. Of course you can.”
“He’s not doing anything to us,” Gretel said through a mouthful of food. “He’s controlling the cage. Inside this house. His domain, his power.”
Stinging tingles attacked Tristan’s fingertips. About bloody time. The urge to move rippled through him but he contained it. He wanted to be fully in charge of his faculties before he let Gretel see the spell was wearing off. He flicked a look at Andrew, still in his back, his arms raised, hands cupped as thought the rope had just then been let go. As he watched one of Andrew’s fingers twitched. Tristan wanted to yell at him, tell him to stay still, but he still couldn’t even swallow. The movement stopped and Tristan breathed a long, soft sigh of relief.
“You have to do something,” said Hansel, his high voice taking on a whinging quality Tristan only heard in the best houses.
Gretel glanced at Tristan as she shoved more gingerbread into her mouth, then began to fill her pockets. When she could fit no more into the folds of her skirts, she lifted a large slab of gingerbread from the table and took it over to Hansel in the cage. As she slipped the gingerbread between the bars, she said, “I’ll go back and get the mistress. She’ll be able to release you.”
“You’re leaving? What about these two? What about ME?”
“You said yourself they have no power over us.” She gestured at the gingerbread Hansel was already eating. “That’ll keep you from getting hungry before we get back.” Gretel rummaged in her bundled skirt and popped another piece of gingerbread in her mouth, then she waved and sauntered out the door.
Tristan noted that she went around the cage on the opposite side to where Andrew was laying, his arms now by his sides.
Here's the next part of The Gingerbread House. The tension is building, the plan has been enacted--but have they succeeded?
Dark shadows crossed the threshold, swiftly followed by two small children, Hansel a couple of steps in front of Gretel. Andrew hesitated. The gremlins were so convincingly children, his instinct was to protect them, not harm them.
Gretel turned and saw him.
She took a half-step toward him, her mouth opened in a snarl that revealed small, sharp teeth. She lifted her hands, fingernails elongated claws with dripping red tips. As she snarled, Hansel also turned.
“Andrew!” cried Thomas. He took a step forward but Hansel spun back to him. A lightning bolt of power shot from his fingertips and froze Thomas in his boots.
Gretel lifted one arm, and Andrew knew he, too, would be frozen. He released his hold on the rope as the lightning bolt arched across the room.
Pain sliced through his chest, sudden and shocking. The breath froze in his lungs, his jaw clamped shut. Blood filled his mouth as pain radiated from his tongue.
The cage dropped.
Andrew fell backward, overbalanced after dropping the rope and being frozen in place. He landed with a painful thud to his head, his arms raised above his body, fingers still curled as if just letting go of the rope. Above him dust motes floated in the afternoon light slanting through the gap in the curtains. After several seconds of stunned silence, through which the clanging of metal against the floor reverberated through Andrew’s head, Gretel began to laugh.
“Did you see him, Hansel? He just toppled over backwards. Look at his hands. It’s like he’s trying to catch a baton or something.”
“Tristan is still standing,” replied Hansel. “Look at his eyes. It doesn’t matter how angry you are, wizard, there’s nothing you can do against our magic.”
“There’s the gingerbread! And there’s a bowl of icing next to it. I’ll bet he lied and it is cool enough to eat.”
Andrew rolled his eyes, straining every muscle to try to turn his head so he could see what was happening, but it was no use. All he could see were the rafters above him and ragged cobwebs dancing in the breeze. Disappointment pricked his eyes. It didn’t work. The gremlins were happy and eyeing off the gingerbread. Andrew must have miscalculated when he had to drop the cage, and they’d escaped.
He and Tristan were done for now. Not only was Andrew’s presence exposed, but so was their plot to capture Hansel and Gretel. He was sure retribution would be swift. At the very least, he’d be stuck here forever, never to become the baker he’d trained so long for.
He wondered if they were stuck here, together, just him and Tristan…
A rattle of metal on metal was accompanied by an outraged roar. “Gretel! It’s stuck. Fix it. I want that gingerbread.” The rattle came again.
“Stand back. I’ll blast the lock.”
A flash of light followed, then an electrical sizzle filled the room, sparking overhead and leaping from rafter to rafter like a wriggling blue-white worm.
“Ow! Ow! Stop it. It hurts!”
The light died but the room still pulsed with residual power.
E E Montgomery
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