I woke up to a one-eyed brother.
Blood trickled from his left sclera. Before a shriek escaped from my throat, my brother slapped my mouth shut. Even though I’m not the one with the bleeding eye, fear rippled within my chest. Just like every unfortunate situation we were pinned against, my brother looked oddly calm.
He cast a sidelong glance towards the door before looking back at me. In contrast with his crimson left eye, his right eye remained blue like the blueberries grandmother Dorothy picked for us yesterday. “Gretel, we need to get out of here.”
My mind spooled a thousand questions. As much as I wanted to knock those inquiries from my brother, the sight of blood painting half of my brother’s features kept my tongue tied.
“Where are going?” was the only thing I am brave enough to ask while weeping even.
“Anywhere!” my brother chided. “Anywhere away from her!”
I didn’t have to ask who he was referring to. As if on cue, a horse’s neigh howled outside the cottage, and its hooves clattered loudly against the marble-tiled floor on the entrance. I threw myself into my brother’s arms, hysterically screaming like an animal before slaughter. Footsteps drummed outside the door, followed by a voice of a thousand screams.
“Come out, bad children.” It sang. “Bad children deserve to be punished.”
The door in my room flew apart and a shadowy figure marched inside. With lips of a crescent moon, the morbid figure grinned at us. “I told you not to get out of the room, didn’t I?”
Clasped within its fingers was what looked like a human spine drenched in crimson liquid. It whipped the said object across the floor. With a faceless face and a black horse to accompany, I quickly named her ‘The Rider.’
A few hours ago, it was grandmother Dorothy – a lonely old woman who baked apple strudels for our breakfast this morning. She generously fed us mouthwatering dishes our parents never afforded. She gave us a home when everybody else abandoned us.
Before I was caught in all this madness, my brother and I lived peacefully with our parents. However, our peace was short lived when we sneaked out of our rooms and overheard our parents’ conversation. It was obviously not idle chatter, and because curiosity got the better on us, we lingered nearby the stairs leading to the living room, where our parents were.
My parents conversed as if they were in the middle of a dry Sunday chapel. There was no priest to tell them off though, but the dread of anyone hearing this exchange could be their death sentence. Dimes of coins scattered on the table between them. From the looks of it, it could barely feed our family for a week.
“This is not enough.” My father buried his face in his calloused hands. Years of woodcutting seemed to have paid off, or not. “Famine has killed our neighbors’ resources. Food prices will rise, and we can only eat for two days with this much.”
Mother was silent for a long moment before crossing her arms. “We have too many mouths to feed. Can we leave them in the forest or something?”
I stifled a breath, trying not to scream. My brother squeezed my shoulders to comfort me, and I didn’t realize that his fingers were trembling.
“Darling, you cannot be serious!” father’s eyes flew opened.
“Do you think we have another choice?” my mother retorted back.
Father said nothing, and that was the end of the conversation.
Brother and I retired to my room that night. Our parents were going to dump us like an unused junk. Anger erupted within me; my nostrils flared with rage. I wept at our unfortunate fate. We couldn’t believe our parents drowned into such sordid behavior.
My brother caressed my chestnut-colored hair with a sad smile. “We are going to be okay, Gretel. God will not forsake us like mother and father. I will be with you.”
Brother stayed with me until I stopped crying. He renounced an idea. If our parents wanted us to get lost in the woods, we would throw pebbles on the road to track our way back home. He sneaked out of the house to fetch some stones. Hansel returned with a handful of pebbles on his pocket and blanched look on his face. He wasn’t even using the same clothes when he left the house. I never asked the latter, but my brother was shaking throughout the night. I asked him whether we wanted to sleep together for the night. My brother didn’t complain.
At night when I was about to go the restroom, I saw my brother’s clothes drenched in blood. It was the same clothes he used when he left. Again, I didn’t ask him anything. My ignorance nearly killed us both
On the next day, our parents took us to the forest. We threw some pebbles on the road to not get lost when they left. When our parents suddenly disappeared behind our backs, brother and I calmly found our way home by following the pebbled trail. Mother was furious. On the day after, they brought us to the forest again, but this time I dropped a piece of bread in my trail because brother couldn’t get his hands on some pebbles. When our parents were nowhere to be seen again, brother and I followed the bread pieces until we realized that they were gone. The birds ate them all.
I started crying. Brother reassured me everything was going to be fine. As his palms kindly stroke my head to calm me down, I didn’t miss his trembling hands. I asked him whether he was all right. Obviously, my brother lied with a grin on his face. Nothing’s wrong, he said.
Then we found a homely cottage in the woods. God saved us, or so that was I thought.
Before we managed to knock on the door, an old woman slipped outside the cottage and beamed at us. “Poor little children… are you lost?”
I didn’t want to trust a stranger, but my brother quickly asked. “We are very sorry to bother you, but can we rest here for the night? We will leave tomorrow.”
The old lady started crying. “Oh, poor children! Please stay here if you want! I just lost my daughter a few days ago and still in mourning. Do you mind keeping this lonely grandma in your company?”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” We nodded at her respectfully.
The old grandma took us in. Her name was Dorothy. She cooked lots of good food and we ate more than we had in our lives. She told us stories before bed and knitted clothes for us. At nighttime after tucking us to bed, Dorothy left the house to god knows where. There was one rule that we all know: Never sneak out after bedtime. I, for one, wasn’t a fan of sneaking out because that was my brother’s hobby.
And he did. One fateful night, he slipped out of bed and followed Dorothy.
When I asked him why he was so insistent on going out, he said that he needed to settle some amends. I should have stopped him back then or he would never lose that left eye of his.
And that was how we arrived into to this plight situation.
The rider charged towards us. My brother pulled me to his shoulders and rolled out of bed, luckily evading the rider. While the rider lingered near our bed for a long, we doggedly crawled towards the door, holding my breath. Before I reached the door’s handle, my brother clawed his left eye and writhed in pain. The rider froze, slowly turning its head towards us.
I kicked the door open and make my way towards the kitchen. I rummaged through the kitchen tools, desperately trying to find a suitable weapon. I glimpsed to the oven and whispered weakly. “Brother, I have an idea.”
We got busy then. As my brother switched on the giant oven, I hid behind the door. With all the ruckus going on, the rider found us easily. In fact, we were very lucky to get enough time to advance our plans.
The rider turned at my brother and made a sound like a laughter. “I told you last time that you’re next! I kept my word!”
My brother leaned in towards the oven and spoke calmly despite blood running down his face. “It was my fault to saw your bloody massacre that night. Please just kill me, mighty rider. My sister had just taken her own life by jumping into the oven.”
The rider pushed him aside and investigate the oven. “I don’t see her. Don’t fool me, child.”
“You just don’t look hard enough,” he said and turned to me, who appeared on the door with an ax.
Our initial plan was to push the rider into the oven, but considering its bulky exterior, we think it was risky.
I lifted the ax above the rider’s head without breathing and brought it down on the rider’s nape, severing its head. Fresh blood exploded from the remaining of the rider’s neck.
My brother and I then quickly escaped from the cottage. We didn’t know whether we would make it to home or not, but we need to get out of here ASAP. Luckily, we ran across the nearest town and had them fixed my brother on time.
In the end, my brother filled me everything. On the night before we were led to the woods, he saw the rider murdering our neighbor. Because he had witnessed the killing scene, the rider was going after him next. He suspected that the grandma who took us in was the rider, so he sneaked out at night. On that night, the rider killed our parents before taking my brother’s left eye.
It was then the villagers who took us in told us that the rider killed parents who abandoned their children. However, those that witnessed the rider’s killing scene would be either got killed or their eye taken. Now that the rider was gone, peace fell upon our country once more.
It sounded like a happily ever after, wasn’t it?
However, the tale continued when the rider survived, headless even. No longer killing parents, the headless rider killed anything that got on its way and brought death whenever it goes. People then named the rider ‘Dullahan’.