This story is the second in “Drive, She Said” that has not been previously published, and like “The Witch’s Library”, it is a reworking of a fairy tale. I won’t tell you which fairy tale in this post, but a reviewer on Goodreads correctly identified the source material, so you can check it out there (or simply send me a direct message and I’ll tell you).

The seed of this story came from a child I once worked with. Confidentiality and privacy laws prevent me from saying too much, but I can reveal that she was around seven years old when I met her, and one of the most challenging students I have assisted in nine years as a teacher aide.

Education staff sometimes wonder how our students are going to turn out as adults. I try not to – I prefer to stay in the here and now and focus on the child as they present to me, not on a hypothetical future – but I had a vision of sorts about this one. I pictured her as a young teen in a dark alley coming up against a man with nefarious intent. I put my money on that imaginary girl to win.

(Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons)


On the strength of my previous Lovecraft-themed stories, I received an invitation to contribute to A Mythos Grimmly, an anthology of fairy tale/Lovecraftian mash-ups (although I prefer to think of them as tasteful blends rather than mash-ups…). The fairy tale I chose to restyle was Hansel and Gretel. Many fairy tales children encounter in the 21st century have been changed to be less bloodthirsty (and thus, one presumes, potentially less traumatising), but Hansel and Gretel has survived largely unchanged from the original, the most significant change being that the siblings’ mother has been swapped out for a stepmother. I remember thinking as a child that burning someone alive, even a wicked cannibal witch, is a messed-up thing to do, and as an adult, I have grave fears for the mental health of any child driven to such desperate measures.

Now, to avoid spoilers, stop reading here…

Ricardo Maragna, Andrew Lang (Editor), H.J. Ford and G.P.Jacomb Hood (illustrators) / Public domain

 

So how do you go about turning Hansel and Gretel into a Lovecraftian horror story? A common theme in Lovecraft’s stories is that of forbidden knowledge, specifically knowledge contained in dangerous books, and the propensity for said knowledge to drive the reader insane. So the forest becomes a steampunk-style city (for no other reason than I thought it would be fun to write), the gingerbread cottage becomes a bookshop, and Hansel becomes a boy genius hungry for knowledge, a fact that the witch seeks to exploit for her own ends. As in the original story, the witch meets a gruesome end and the children escape to return to their repentant, now-single father. But does it end happily-ever-after? Not really – it wouldn’t be Lovecraftian if it did.


It’s impossible to talk about the inspiration for this story without spoiling it, if not explicitly, then at least by strong implication. So if you intend to read this story but haven’t done so yet, I suggest you read this blog post no further than here. Just to help with that, I’ll put my customary illustration in the middle instead of at the end.

 

 

And now, on with the story behind the story.

Once upon a time, I read a piece of flash fiction online. I regret that I can’t recall what site it was on, nor the story title, nor the name of the author. But I do remember what it was about. The story told of a man giving a lesson to a rapt audience on the art of bonsai. The story starts as one might expect, but by the end of it the reader has become horribly aware that the ‘trees’ the man is twisting into tortured shapes are actually tiny, captive, still living people.

I found the idea absolutely terrifying. This is my take on that idea, with a doll house replacing bonsai trees, and the cast of two given a little more time to show us who they are. Just as Michael’s edges are literally blurred at the end of the story, I sought to figuratively blur the edges and his and Susan’s moral characters (feedback welcome from readers on whether or not I succeeded).