Author’s note: I entered the Fiction War Winter Flash Fiction contest in January and had to submit a story of no more than 1,000 words using “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” as the prompt.
I had fun with this one, although it’s a dark fairy tale (as were those told by the Brothers Grimm, of course.) I learned this morning that my story wasn’t among those identified as contest finalists. I still had fun with it. I hope you enjoy it too!
Hannah and Gretchen
Gretchen made her way to her step-mother’s office with a spring in her step, almost floating across the building’s lobby. Today was the day she’d been hoping and planning for; the excitement was nearly unbearable.
Careful, she admonished herself as she entered the crowded elevator. Mustn’t drop the pie. That wouldn’t do at all.
Scents of cinnamon and sugar filled the small space, garnering the attention of workers on their way to another day at the office.
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to share a piece of that pie with me, could I?” A businessman said, his eyes twinkling.
Gretchen tightened her grip on the pie tin. “I’m sorry, but I made this for someone special, someone who really deserves it.”
Upon reaching the 33rd floor, Gretchen walked right past the reception desk with its tawdry, gold-plated lettering announcing “Hannah Teufel-Schmidt: Literary Agent.”
Today, unlike on previous visits to Hannah’s office, Gretchen didn’t need to force a smile. She strolled into the interior office without waiting for an invitation.
“Gretchen? Why are you here? I really don’t have time this morning…” Hannah frowned, looking over her horn-rimmed glasses at her step-daughter.
Even Hannah’s normal dour mood couldn’t dampen Gretchen’s spirits today.
Gretchen set the pie tin on the desk and adjusted her satchel. “I made you something, Hannah. A special pie – apple cinnamon. Your favorite! I wanted to thank you for believing in my manuscript.”
“I really shouldn’t…” Hannah said, even as she reached for the edge of the plastic covering the tin. “Maybe just one piece.”
Hannah had never met a pie she didn’t like; the fact that it was 8 AM was immaterial. Her penchant for sugary desserts at all hours of the day was a source of wry amusement for Gretchen most days. Today… well, today it just felt like fate was reaffirming the plan.
Gretchen dished a large piece of pie onto a plate, careful to wipe her hands on the towel she’d brought. Mustn’t accidentally eat any of Hannah’s special pie.
“Surely you’re not having any, right?” Hannah said, her tone condescending. “After all, you’ve packed on a few pounds too many. You’ll never catch a man that way,” she continued even as her plump hand lifted the fork to her open mouth.
Gretchen wasn’t fazed by this; this was the type of statement she’d come to expect from Hannah. Until last month, she’d thought insults and verbal attacks were the worst Hannah had to offer. How wrong she’d been.
“Tsk, tsk. It’s not even hot, Gretchen. Why, it’s actually cold. I’ll eat it because you went to the trouble, but some desserts should always be heated.”
Gretchen leaned back in her chair, watching her step-mother, a woman who’d never shown her an ounce of kindness, shovel pie into her mouth.
“While that may be true of some pies, Hannah, trust me when I say that this particular recipe is best served cold. Any progress with my manuscript? After all, it’s been a year since you told me you were sure it would be a best-seller.”
For a moment, discomfort distorted Hannah’s features.
“You know how publishers are, Gretchen dear – a fickle bunch. These things take time. But I’m sure you’ll have offers for your little book soon.”
“That ‘little book’ took two years of my life. Please understand that I’m anxious to see Grimmer: 25 of Grimm’s Fairy Tales Reimagined in print. More pie?”
Hannah licked her lips, pushing her plate toward Gretchen. “Please. What’s that spice? Cinnamon, yes, but what else?”
Gretchen dished another slice of Hannah’s special pie.
“Now, Hannah, a woman’s got to have some secrets. But, tell me, what’s this I heard about you landing a book deal of your own? I wasn’t aware you’d written anything.”
Hannah’s composure slipped again, revealing fear and something darker.
“What did Jacob tell you? He shouldn’t have said anything,” There was an edge to Hannah’s voice now.
“He didn’t tell me anything; he’s as loyal to you now as the day you married.” God knows why, Gretchen wanted to add. “I was at the house last month, visiting father, when I saw the publisher’s letter on the counter. Congratulations, dear step-mother. Tell me, where did you get the idea for the book? Were you inspired by little old me?”
Hannah’s hand shook as she touched her ashen cheek. Sweat glistened on her forehead.
“You ungrateful child. After all I’ve done for you…” Hannah’s voice faltered. “I… I don’t feel well. You need to leave. Now!”
Gretchen sat forward. “I’m not going anywhere just yet. The pills I crushed and baked into the pie should be kicking in right about now. Is your head swimming? Can you feel your organs shutting down? The whole bottle may have been overkill, no pun intended, but I had to be certain.”
Hannah shuddered as realization dawned.
“The funny thing is, I didn’t understand at first what I was reading.” Gretchen took a piece of paper from her satchel. “But, when I realized what you’d done, I knew what I had to do. You do see how fitting this is, considering the theme of the book, right?” She tittered.
Hannah was having trouble focusing.
“Stay with me, dear step-mother. Let me remind you of your… success.”
Unfolding the paper, she began reading:
“Dear Hannah: We are pleased to confirm our agreement to publish your original manuscript Grimmer: 25 of Grimm’s Fairy Tales Reimagined. Enclosed with this letter is payment for the agreed-upon advance against royalties…”
Gretchen looked up and was mildly disappointed to see that Hannah was no longer conscious.
Smiling nonetheless, she put the letter back into her satchel and made her way to the elevator. When the doors opened, she saw the businessman from earlier.
“Hey, it’s the pie lady. Did the recipient appreciate it?”
Gretchen thought carefully before replying.
“She had that pie coming for a long time; let’s just say that she finally got her just desserts.”