The Tell-Tale Tooth


I have often been accused of a deficiency of imagination.  It is for such that I hope you will trust the veracity of this tale.  To begin, my baptismal name is Hansel.  My surname is unimportant.  I had lived with my father, sister Grethel, and stepmother.  We had lived in a small claustrophobic cottage within a wood, as my father was a mere woodcutter. 

Upon my eighth year, during a great famine in the land, I overheard my stepmother tell my father that they could not support my sister and I.  She suggested that we be taken out into the woods and left to fend for ourselves.  I related this to my sister, and had already formulated a plan to return us safely home.

The following morn, under the guise of going woodcutting, my stepmother gave Grethel and I each a crust of bread -- a generous act, considering her true intentions -- and led us out into the wood.  As we walked, I straggled behind, removed my father's rusty pliers from a pocket, and proceeded to pull one of my teeth.  The pain was excruciating, but I found that the release was almost euphoric.  I placed my tooth on the ground, and did the same with my other teeth, placing them intermittently along our route, with the root of each tooth pointing toward the previous tooth.

Eventually, we reached a dark, dreary, cold clearing where our mother lit a fire, and then left, saying she would look for wood.  We then waited, and we became hungry, so consumed our crusts, which seemed moldy.

After the Moon rose, we followed my teeth, which gleamed with white enamel and glistened with red blood, back to our cottage, arriving back just as the sun rose.  Our mother met us at the door and acted as though she were glad at our return, but I knew from the murderous gleam in her dark, bloodshot eyes that she would try her scheme again.

A short time passed, uneventfully, but, late one night, a night when the Moon was full and the wind howled through the decrepit shutters of our abode, I once again overheard my stepmother conversing with my father.  Against my father's pleas, she planned to desert Grethel and I in the wood again.  I searched long for the pliers, but could not find them or anything to serve in their place.  One may wonder why I would want the pliers, having plucked all my teeth on our previous outing.  My plan this time was to -- with or without her consent -- use the teeth of my dear sister to show the way home.

The morning came, and the sun shone dully through the trees as my stepmother led us deep into the wood, deeper than we had ever been before, and, as we walked, I dropped crumbs of my crust in place of my sister's teeth.

We arrived at another clearing several hours before dusk.  Again, my stepmother lit a fire and left us for dead. 

Knowing that we would have a long journey ahead of us, we decided to save Grethel's crust for later, and to rest until nightfall and Moonrise. 

Just as night fell, a chipmunk seemed to emulate the night, and fell, dead, from a tree, landing in our fire, leaving only one tiny paw outside the reach of the flames.  I beheld within this paw a crumb.  A crust crumb.  My crust crumb.  I suddenly noticed a dead quiet within the wood, broken only by the breaking sound of Grethel's crust.  I quickly snatched the piece of crust from her hand and threw it in the crackling fire.  The crusts had been poisoned.

It was at this time that I, too, became hungry, so I decided that we should begin trying to find our way home, despite my crumb-trail having been eaten by the greedy, and now deceased, woodland creatures.  We began walking in the direction whence we came, and, after a time, came upon a dark, foreboding, gothic castle. 

Upon closer inspection, I had noticed that the castle was made of gingerbread, which explained why the towers leaned, nearly falling over, and why insects crawled all over the structure.  Being desperately famished by this time, Grethel and I quickly began gnawing on the portcullis.  We soon began to feel deathly sick because of the putrid gingerbread.  I felt my self slowly falling into darkness, and heard Grethel's seemingly lifeless body collapse to the ground beside me...

*               *               *               *               *               *

 It was dark -- all dark.  I endeavored to sit up, but found that I was enclosed within a wooden box.  A coffin.  Panic overtook me.  I had been taken for dead, and buried alive!  I could only hope that my beloved sister did not share my fate, and that she had been killed by the gingerbread.  I opened my mouth to shriek, but just then, I glimpsed a beam of light out of the corner of my eye.

I looked up toward the hole that gave my only light, and saw only a gleaming set of flawless teeth.  From then on, I saw very little but these teeth -- not a speck on their surface; not a shade on their enamel; not an indenture in their edges -- which brought me food.  It was also these teeth – long, narrow, and excessively white, with the pale lips writhing about them, as in the very moment of their first terrible development -- which asked me once a day to produce a finger, to test my plumpness.  I instead put a finger-sized bone that I had found in my box through the hole, tricking the apparently near-sighted witch into thinking I had never gained a pound despite all the sumptuous foods she had fed me.

This continued for several weeks, until one day, the coffin had been flung open, the sudden exposure to light blinding me momentarily.  After helping my atrophied body rise from my box, Grethel told me that she had been held as a slave by the witch.  That day, the witch had designed to eat Grethel instead of my self, so had fired the oven and asked Grethel to crawl in the opening to feel if it were hot enough to bake bread.  Grethel had suspected the witch’s motive, and had said that she could not fit, so the witch had showed her that she her self could fit, and, at this moment, my sister had pushed the witch into the oven and closed the oven door.  The echoing screams of the witch had been horrible.

We then separated and searched the house for valuables, filling our pockets with whatever gems, jewels, and coins we could find.

As we were about to leave, we were interrupted by the forlorn sound of a deep voice that quoth, "Nevermore… shall I see the light of day now that my accursed mistress is dead."  In the corner was a large cage, in which a giant raven, standing four feet tall, stood.  I learned from the raven that it had been captured by the witch and forced to sing for her.

I offered the raven its freedom if only it would fly my sister and my self safely home, to which it agreed.  I opened the cage and released the raven, and we exited the gingerbread castle.  My sister and I mounted the raven's back, and we flew to a great height, from which Grethel spotted our cottage.  During our flight home, I related to the raven the details of our adventure.

We landed at the front door of the cottage, and our stepmother stepped out of the house.  The raven, in retribution for how she had treated us, grabbed our stepmother by the hair and flew off with her, depositing her deeper within the forest than she had ever left my sister and I.  She was never seen again.

Our father then greeted us happily.  My sister opened her pouch and poured the gems and other valuables she had taken from the witch onto her hand.  We would never again live in penury.  I opened my pouch and did the same, but all that fell from the pouch were thirty-two small, white, and ivory-looking substances -- the witch's teeth, which I had recovered from the oven.