No one had ever called me a witch, not before those greedy children came to the cottage.
I knew lots about witches, of course, as I am sure that you do too. Children always know more about these things than their parents. A man called William Shakespeare wrote a play about witches, a long time ago, and suddenly the whole world was ‘witch this’ and ‘witch that’. You couldn’t move for people saying that their old next-door neighbour had put a curse on them because they didn’t give her a glass of milk, or that a lady had come wandering into the town and made all the animals ill because no one let her stay the night.
But none of it is true, you know. And William Shakespeare didn’t even invent witches. He borrowed them, like every writer did in the olden days. And I am not a witch. I have lived for a very, very, very long time, but I am not a witch. I am a little bit magical. Definitely not a witch though. Are we clear? Not. A. Witch.
I moved around the world when I was younger, back in my early hundreds. A thousand different cultures have a thousand different names for us. Some call us fairy or sprite, imp or nymph. Humans never looked closely enough to realise that we are all the same thing; magical folk are actually VERY boring. I know everyone in our world and let me tell you, when you’ve known the same people for as long as I have, you soon wish that you were a witch, because it might make things more interesting. I’m not a witch, though, don’t forget. Just a little sprite, down on her luck.
When I was done with my mischief-making, and bored of magic people, I was ready to settle down. This is where you might think that you know the rest of my story. The books you have read say that my little house in the forest was made of gingerbread. Gingerbread? If you’re a sensible person you know how daft that idea sounds. Don’t people know what happens to gingerbread in the rain? It is not a good building material, and neither are jelly sweets as roof tiles, or icing as cement. If the rain didn’t melt everything away into a puddle of goo, don’t you think that the animals in the forest might have come along and eaten it before Hansel and Gretel got there? People, especially grown-ups, have their heads so stuffed with stuff and nonsense that the truth could do a dance in a silly hat and they still wouldn’t see it.
So, remember: my house looked like gingerbread, but it definitely wasn’t. Those brats had no right to be sneaking around, and certainly no right to be trying to break bits off my window frames. I won’t pretend that I didn’t tell them off, because that wouldn’t be true. I was angry and I shouted a bit, but then Gretel began to cry and I felt bad. I always quite liked children, even when they were naughty.
‘We’re sorry,’ she said, big tears rolling down her face, ‘We’re just so hungry.’
‘What happened?’ I asked, ‘Why are you wandering around the forest by yourselves?’
‘Our dad left us here,’ Hansel put his arm around his sister, ‘He said he would find us but it’s been days and he hasn’t come!’
‘Oh dear,’ I sighed, patting Gretel on the head, ‘You’d better come in. I have some real gingerbread, if you’re hungry.’
They stayed for a little while, eating all my biscuits and drinking all my milk. I drew them a map of the forest paths, so they could find their way out, and off they went.
At seven o’clock the next morning, a man was knocking on my door and shouting, ‘Mrs Witch? Mrs Witch, are you home?’
Mrs Witch? I ran down the stairs and opened the door.
‘I am NOT a witch. Who are you?’
‘Jack Grimm, Forest News,’ he said, licking the tip of a pencil and holding a notebook, ‘Mrs Witch, what do you have to say about the report made by Hansel and Gretel that you tried to lock them up and eat them?’
‘I am not a wit— Wait, what did you say?’
He smiled a slimy smile. ‘Hansel and Gretel. Apparently you put them in a cage and wanted to eat them.’
I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t even speak.
‘They’re saying they escaped by pushing you into your oven. It’s not looking good for you, Mrs Witch.’
‘I am NOT a witch,’ I said, and I saw that he was busy writing even though I hadn’t said anything important, ‘What are you writing?’
‘Just the truth, madam,’ he said. ‘They weren’t lying about the gingerbread house, were they, Mrs Witch?’
‘It’s not gingerbread and I am not a witch! Anyway, if they had pushed me into my oven, how would I be here now and not burned to a crisp?’
‘I don’t know, madam,’ Jack Grimm laughed and took a photograph of me, ‘You’re a witch. Who knows what kind of magic you can do? This will be in the evening edition, if you’d like to read it!’
And that’s what really happened. Those naughty children made up nasty lies about me and then a nasty man wrote them down and put it in the newspaper. I was a witch and nothing would change it. Can you do one thing for me, now that you know the real story? Next time you hear someone telling lies about me, make sure that you tell them THE TRUTH. And, if you’re ever in the woods, drop by for tea and real gingerbread and I can tell you another story about the time a silly princess pricked her finger on a needle and had to sleep for a hundred years just to get over it. You won’t believe that one either.
(issue 17, summer 2017)