The Dead

"Check the oven, Gretel," snarled the witch, baring her rotting teeth.

November started to cry out, but it died in her throat as she saw Red throw herself at witch. Her ax swung down, slicing the witch's arm off at the elbow. Perrault popped up at the window, indicating November's exit, but all she could do was watch in horror as Red, in a wild fury, grabbed a large caldron and bludgeoned the witch with it.

"Like the taste of children, eh?!" Red screamed out. Her eyes shot daggers into the witch before her, as a second attack with the cauldron broke it in two. November crawled towards the door, with Perrault half-heartedly ushering her on.

"If you would step this way, Your Highness," said Perrault.

"But Red is..." stammered November, "They'll kill each other..."

Perrault's face darkened, "Trust me, this won't end so easily."

A loud crash startled them both. Red came tumbling out of a newly formed hole in the side of the house, the witch thundering out after her. Crying like a banshee, she flung herself at Red. With a swing of her ax Red cut the witch's head clear off, and thrust the knife into her stomach. To her horror, small, black, child hands surged out of the gaping wound. They grabbed at Red, dragging her inside of the witch. November rushed forward and took hold of Red's cloak.

The hands trailed up her hand, and November shivered. "Dear God, they're cold."

Red's whole body seized up. "Out," she rasped. A terror like none she had ever felt ripped through her heart. "Get out, get out, GET OUT!"

Her hand reached back and slammed into November's chest, hurtling the delicate girl away from the demon hands. A bit of her cloak ripped away in November's grip. The black hands fastened themselves to Red and dragged her in.

"I'm dead," Red thought, as the eternal darkness swallowed her. She couldn't see a thing in the pitch black. Her whole body seared with icy cold. Whispers of ghost children, long since consumed by the witch, swirled around her. As little hands brushed her skin, she could hear them clearly.

"You've been to a place like this before," she heard as a hand against brushed her cheek.

"You know death," said another as it passed its fingers through her hair.

"You know darkness." A hand slid over her own.

"And you are afraid."

"What do you have to fear? You know this world."

Red's mouth was sealed shut. All she could do was think, "I can't leave her out there alone."

A solitary finger touched her nose. "But she can take of herself."

"No she can't," Red interjected fiercely."I need to take care of her. I need to save her."

"Ah," whispered a dozen little voices as a dozen little hands grazed her skin, "but she needs to save you first."

Very, very faintly, from a world many leagues from the one Red was in now, she heard a faint voice say, "I'm so sorry."

A warmth grew somewhere in the black. It grew and grew until Red felt her blood boil with a fire hotter than the sun. A thin white line appeared in her vision.

Hands swirled around, grabbing at Red, flying away.

"Go! Strike!"

"Avenge us!"

"Let no more meet the same fate as us."

"Destroy her."

Red plunged the hand that still held the knife at the white line. Her arm left the darkness, and she soon followed, falling out into the world of the living. Her hand fell on the smoldering fire poker, burning her.

She smiled slightly. "So you saved me. Good girl."

She took hold of the poker and turned to the witch. She cowered on the ground, frail and pathetic.

"Get back inside," she murmured, "It isn't safe."

Red pulled her to her knees, and beat her.

When she paused, the witch stared up at her, terrified. "You're not my Gretel," she gasped, "Who are you?"

Red grabbed her by the hair, and forced her to the oven.

"Wait!" November cried. "Can't we just..."

"Get out, I said," snarled Red, closing the oven door.

November ran from the house, the screams of the witch following her all the way.

"We shall be on our way forthwith," Perrault declared to the innkeeper.

"Oh, so soon?" asked the innkeeper. "But your companions, they look a bit tired yet."

"Ah, my friend," purred Perrault, "you don't know them as I do. They are quite bursting with vigor and good cheer. Trust me."

November hobbled out the front door, rubbing her sore shoulder. She spotted Red and froze. The dark hair woman sat, darning her torn cloak. November glanced at her, then hurried away.

Red looked up at her fleeing figure. "I know I seem like a monster," she thought, "but one must do what they can do to survive."

She shut her eyes. "And to protect the ones they care about."

She returned to her work, deftly guiding the needle from one stitch to the next. "One day, you'll understand."

My, it's been a while. I hope you enjoyed that. It was a nice exercise for me. Red, November, and Perrault don't belong to me. They are the lovely creations of Andrea L. Peterson, and her No Rest for the Wicked.